Any common denominator of how great players were taught as beginners?

July 18, 2019, 4:22 AM · If you have an awareness of the specifics of how great players first began, are there specifics regarding how they were taught, what they worked on at the outset that made a difference?

Replies (12)

July 18, 2019, 7:56 AM · Their teaching has to be really good of course from the outset, but I don't think anything abnormal happens in teaching young children that will later become great players. It would be exactly the same as a good teacher teaching a child that is less talented. Of course the progress will be proportional to their talent.
July 18, 2019, 8:06 AM · I think parents had to truly support and encourage them. Just paying for the lessons is not enough (even if top notch).

Plus, the kid has to have the drive for it. If he's anything like me, no amount of teaching or talent will help :)))

July 18, 2019, 3:33 PM · Having read some of their biographies and having spoken to a few, the "Common Denominator" seems to be that they are driven by an inner-desire to play music on their particular instrument.In these people the parents, teachers, coaches, managers, and the rest are guides.

That being said, their lives are not without problems but those problems tend to arise from the drive that is insatiable. Perhaps that is why there are so few of them.

July 18, 2019, 3:39 PM · I do think that even a great potential talent, with the drive and everything, can be squashed by bad early teachers and poor parental support.

I can't say this 100%, but I would guess that most great players had very encouraging teachers early on (far more important than a discouraging teacher who promotes good technique, although ideally it would be both). By "encouraging", I don't necessarily mean "nice," but simply a teacher who knows how to improve playing skills without pushing the child away from the violin. Not all students respond to super nice teachers, but everyone can benefit from an "encouraging" teacher.

And by "teachers," I suppose I'm adding parents into that mix, because they are the teachers at home, 6x a week, until the child grows older.

Edited: July 18, 2019, 7:01 PM · Generally they'll start with either a parent (often music runs in the family) or a regular teacher. The teacher will quickly see how talented the child is and transfer them to someone more qualified. By their teens they'll be studying with someone notable who teaches at a conservatory. They will often have two or more lessons per week and be held to higher standards than the other kids. Years of this, plus huge talent, is a recipe for a great violinist. Whether it makes a well rounded artist is another discussion.

P.S. I highly doubt many children are getting up every day and wanting to put in hours of practice. Overall I guess the parents and teacher are probably a huge influence in this area. Kids who don't have that kind of external motivation tend to find it harder to work consistently.

July 18, 2019, 8:32 PM · Some children really have that drive. Listen to interviews with Rachel Barton or Hilary Hahn talking about their childhoods, or the still-young pianist/composer Alma Deutscher.
July 20, 2019, 6:25 AM · Also while this is not always true in most every case these violinists had very fine instruments from a early age. For example Vengerov got his first strad at 12.
July 20, 2019, 7:44 AM · Yep - I'm sure there a few (which is why I said "many" not "any") I just know what most kids are like and they seem to be the rare exception.
July 20, 2019, 8:18 AM · And then there are the violinists who exhibited talent and then their choice whether to play was taken away from them. They were put into schools that were single minded - and sometimes even brutal to bring them to their peak. How many of these became great players? I don't know but I do know of top symphony orchestra violinists who are there because they simply do not have any alternative; no other training. One of these is counting the days to their retirement when they can sell their Guadigini and use the process to never touch the cursed thing again.

Its not all happy romance.

Edited: July 24, 2019, 1:08 PM · Humphrey Burton's biography of Yehudi Menuhin describes in detail the pattern of development for many famous soloists. Yehudi's parents took him to classical concerts starting when he was about 4 years old. He was entranced and wanted a violin to sound like the music he heard. The parents were not strong musicians, but were strong supporters. Yehudi's sister played piano very well. Yehudi showed talent and dedication to practicing, so his parents connected him to the best teacher in the community. He blossomed. He gave his first recital at age 8, and within 5 years, at age 13, he was world famous as a concert soloist with major orchestras. Once his immense talent was recognized at around age 8 or 10, his parents isolated him. He played long hours every day. He was home schooled. He never had a meal without a parent present until he was 21 years old. His personal interactions were primarily with more senior violinists, or within the family.

The details differ for other great soloists, but the pattern is common. Famous soloists do not have a 'normal childhood' or live a 'normal life'. The soloist and those around him at any age focus on one thing - performance.

As Elise says, a handful of children in any generation emerge from this pattern as world famous. Many others go through the pattern, often willingly for a long time, and end up as orchestra musicians or professors of violin.

Another way to think about it is: what is required to become an Olympic athlete and win a medal? Its about the same for violin soloists, but they often start younger.

Edited: July 21, 2019, 12:26 PM · Elise - Michael Rabin and Maxim Vengerov were violinists who were put under great pressure by their mothers and ultimately were unhappy. Rabin's life ended tragically, and Vengerov ended up taking some time off to address his demons.

Interestingly, in the tennis world, Andre Agassi ended up having the same problem. He was an enormous tennis talent, but he really hated playing because of the pressure put on him by his father.

Edited: July 20, 2019, 10:31 AM · I have no doubt at all that the thing that made greatness possible for these players was in them from the beginning. Their teachers were just able to help them along their paths.

One of my wife's sisters decided to take up violin and got one and started lessons. When her daughter was about 9 she wanted to try her mother's violin. The result was so remarkable that the mother stopped lessons and the daughter started them. I had a chance to play duets with her when we were traveling through Chicago in 1972 - and she was really remarkable. A year or two later she won an all city youth competition (all instruments) to solo with the Chicago Symphony - but as I heard it she "chickened out." Still she was able to demo instruments at Bein and Fushi and some other shops in Chicago and find some work as a violinist although she chose a different profession.

Anne Akiko Meyers was a Suzuki student in our small city. Her first teacher was a violinist/violist/pianist/organist with whom I played string quartets regularly. Anne was taught the way the other Suzuki students were - but not for very long. By the time she was 6 or so she soloed with our community orchestra and then again at 7. Her teacher sent her off to LA pros for conventional pedagogy about then. And after - she had soloed the Mendelssohn with the LA Phil and with our community orchestra at age 12 as a gift to our town and her first teacher (and been on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson) she was off to Julliard and then the world.

People like that just have "IT." I started lessons at age 4 - I don't have "IT" and never did. I'm convinced my teachers had nothing to do with what I don't have, but without them I'd probably have nothing.

I own and have watched the Galamian tapes. Nothing special there - the only violinist worth being on the 5 cassettes was the young Joshua Bell.

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