Turning Down Adult Students
About 70% of my students are adult learners (usually brand-new beginners), and some of them come to me because some of the other teachers in my area flat-out refuse to take on adult beginner students. I've always thought this was interesting, but never had a dialogue about it except with the students themselves.
Anyone ever had experience with this? Or, as teachers, have you ever refused to even meet with an adult beginner? If so, why?
I do take the occasional adult beginner, but I can think of a few good reasons other teachers might not: it is the very rare adult beginner who sticks with it over the long haul; limited time that is already filled with children; a teacher who does not take beginners period.
I have quite a few adult students, beginners and returners... and the dropout rate is higher than for school kids, but most stay with it. I find my adult students rewarding to teach; sometimes there are periods when practicing is sparse, as life gets busy, but overall they make good progress and I can see that the lessons are a real enrichment to their lives, which makes teaching worthwhile.
I haven't personally had experience with this. All of my teachers as far as I am aware have been very accepting of adult beginners, and have basically treated them like they do the child beginners, including them in studio recitals and classes.
I'm rather cynical about this, I'm afraid. I kind of wonder whether you will get a representative response in a public forum. Someone who takes adults students might be willing to say that publicly, but the general "vibe" of these threads (which have come up in the past) suggest that someone who does not take adult students needs to somehow feel inferior or defensive.
There was a really good, and lengthy, thread on this topic last year:
Someone who doesn't take on a client because of a trait that someone cannot control, which doesn't inherently say much about someone as a person or potential student, should feel somewhat inferior, in my opinion. Especially given the reputation classical music has of being snobby, elitist, and inaccessible. But this kind of stuff is on the whole, still considered pretty socially acceptable, so I wouldn't be surprised if someone proudly came forward to explain their position.
Honestly, I can definitely see how a teacher wouldn't want the challenges associated with adult students. In my fairly substantial experience teaching adults, I find that they need a lot more encouragement on a week-to-week basis than kids do, because their expectations are often unrealistic and they feel that every day that passes puts them even closer to the "Edge of futility," which is the non-existent point at which learning is no longer possible.
I've taught a lot of adult beginners and comeback players, and it just really depends on one's ability to communicate well, and understand the unique challenges that this group of players faces, one of which may be the inability to consistently practice as much as we want them to.
Lydia: I followed the link and find it adequate. This thread can be considered closed now.
If a teacher looks beyond the revenue and tries to make a name for herself, then it would make sense to focus on kids some of whom may eventually get into Juilliard, win competitions, and solo with orchestras.
I am a 59 year old re-learner, and though I would not presume to know how professional teachers regard adult students, I can make the following observations to adult amateur violin students about the student-teacher relationship;
My advice to an adult beginner is to go with the flow and put in some effort and see where you're at, rather than setting goals like "I want to go to Juilliard in 3 years" or "I want to join the local symphony." Adult beginners have several opportunities like joining adult amateur orchestras and soloing with them, playing solo performances at various community centers (e.g churches, streets, studio recitals) and playing chamber music with others. If you want to close this thread, I'm afraid you're going to have to delete it.
This thread now has a life of its own, so even deleting the original post probably won't kill discussion.
A teacher can both take on likely prestige students and likely less prestigious ones. A former teacher of mine regularly sent students to places like Julliard, Colburn, NEC, etc., and taught adult beginners as well as kids who weren't very serious as well. She also taught at the Colburn pre-college division.
Everyone deserves the chance to learn :)
I expect that it depends on the studio, Lieschen. There are teachers who don't want to take kids who aren't on a pre-professional track, for instance, or who want a minimum commitment of two (or four!) hours a day of practice.
I just try to take on any students who will politely nod their heads as I go on rants about respecting the instrument and why the world is deeply flawed.
Ironically, I bet less young pupils than we generally think stick with the violin, as adults who start generally do so with all the good will and intentions. Do you really believe all little kids who start the violin will keep at it? They may, or may not-just like with adults (the kids will be adults one day as well, and refuse to keep working or just do something else.)
Erik, I think that the selectivity *is* related to the financial perspective. A teacher who is in-demand because they are perceived to be great (their students win competitions, take top seats in orchestras, go on to big-name conservatories or even bigger-name teachers, etc.) is more likely to have a full studio and be able to charge more for lessons.
Indeed Lydia. I'm lucky in that my teacher mostly teaches kids/teenagers on the music major track, could not believe my good fortune when she said she would take me on.
Granted endless amounts of money, if a really good teacher taught me if I had to commit to 4 hours of daily practice, I would gladly take on the challenge. In an ideal world, I would happily take weekly lessons until I physically couldn't anymore.
An unmotivated kid will probably keep showing up for lessons and paying, at least for a while. (If they quit, they are more likely to quit on a school-year boundary.) An unmotivated adult will probably quit at an unpredictable time, leaving a hole in the schedule and representing an income loss.
"An unmotivated adult will probably quit at an unpredictable time, leaving a hole in the schedule and representing an income loss."
The unmotivated inept child with controlling parents is partly the client in the sense that they take up space that could be utilized instead for a more motivated student that gets something much more positive from the lessons ( don't know if innate talent should be part of that equation ).
Most teachers, in my experience anyway, offer a trial lesson, during which fit can be assessed. But I'm guessing it can be hard to figure out who's going to stay and who's going to leave.
In my experience, the biggest obstacle for adult beginners is finding peers to play with. Almost all children who learn an instrument have some kind of group setting, whether that's a school orchestra, a Suzuki group, a studio group, or whatever else. I think it's really necessary to have that in order to be motivated to stick with it long-term. No matter how excited one might be about violin, eventually everybody will hit the wall if their only experience with it is sitting at home practicing alone. Problematically, however, most adult amateur groups are composed of relatively high-level players. True adult beginners are intimidated, and possibly unwelcome, in those groups.
Most community orchestras are at the intermediate to advanced level. Mine has some former adult beginners, but they didn't start playing with the orchestra until they were at the intermediate level.
What do you consider intermediate level Lydia?
I think the *attitude* toward adult beginners is usually better in the fiddle community, but practically speaking, I don't know that there are that all many venues for people to play. Sure, you can go to sessions--although they are their own snarly little fiefdoms--but rarely is there anything organized on the level of community orchestras or adult chamber music groups. What's difficult, too, is that there might only be one or two other fiddle players at the session, often of unpredictable quality. There are not always amateur "role models" around like you'll get with, say, the concertmaster of a community orchestra.
Maybe I've just been lucky enough to live places with all-fiddle groups that welcome people of all levels, including beginners. :-)
I thought meeting people and sharing common experiences and interests was what "social media" was supposed to be all about.
I disagree strongly, Paul Deck. I always offer free introductory lessons to potential students, and they almost always can use regular detache bows with at least 50% of the bow length by the end of the lesson, as well as a couple of different rhythms. They are also sent home with a pretty firm grasp on how to properly hold the bow and set up the instrument, along with pictures and detailed instructions in case they can't remember. So I wouldn't say there is "no point" in trial lessons for brand new students.
Suzuki programs normally have an open-lesson policy that allows -- indeed encourages -- others to come observe. Many teachers of more advanced students, however, also have an open-lesson policy, because students can learn a lot from observing one another's lessons.
As a adult beginner myself, I found 5 violin teachers in my area. 1 already stated on her website she didn't accept adult students, so I didn't even bother. 2 violin schools never emailed me back. The other two did teach adults. And I ended up taking now almost a year of lessons with one of them. My first lesson was also a free trial lesson. She is amazing and has even helped me get into a orchestra :) she herself said, even most kids in the world that start out on the violin will never be a concert violinist or a maestro on the instrument either so really what does it matter. And I agree :)
I also note non-musicians strong opinions about musical potential.
Funny thing... you could indeed play like any tiny korean (or any ethnicity) kid with serious work, and because you are older you may be able to do things the tiny kid at that stage couldn't do, for all her technical fluency. Seriously, prodigies are awesome, but it's more than rare that they sound better or more interesting at 6 with the Mendelssohn, than they will once they become more mature musicians.
Youre right, Adalberto Valle-Rivera. Also I tried to find the video on youtube but can't find it now, the title was something like 'amazing Korean girl plays violin!' and she was like 5. vibrato and shifting positions like a little pro, was pretty impressive to see those tiny hands do all of that, but also discourages some adults when they see that. yeah I definitely don't play like that (yet!) Im not gonna lie I did feel very awkward at first due to my age. the students that come before and after me are between 5 to 9 years old. I'm used to it now haha.
I find that lot of people, especially the untrained, get unjustifiably impressed any time a young child makes some sort of palatable noise on an instrument, regardless of whether they really are exceptional. For them, the child's age is the main determiner of product quality,and they expect little if anything in the way of a young child's competence. If said child fails to transition into a creative, innovative adult, they are thrown aside.
@Sophie "Also I have encountered people showing me a video of a little Korean girl who played violin very fast, and then are like 'you ll never be as good as this kid!' uhm..okay great? :/ and those comments ALWAYS come from people who can't even play air guitar."
Lieschen, I could not agree more. Take a look at this link:
The kid was not there to play music. They only wanted him to amuse the audience.
As an adult learner, I think that what helps best is being "realistic" from the part of both parties (well, all parties). By that I mean that the process of adult learning and teaching should be seen for what it is: , a process that is to be enjoyed for what it is and the results that may be achieved.
I know that from the point of view of an adult "late beginner" standards should be realistic, but I disagree that realistic should mean "low". One step at a time of course, but there's no telling what the future lies ahead. From my point of view, it is far from chasing unicorns that an adult can learn mostly anything, though he/she must be open to undertake "what it takes" to play at a high level.
Who equated being realistic with meaning having "low standards"? Can one not be realistic and have high standards within the realm of the possible?
Being 60 and just starting, I may not be headed to Juilliard but who cares. In fact, when comparing the number of students who are young and taking an instrument class, to the number accepted to Juilliard, it isn't a likelihood your student will get there. Juilliard only had 855 enrollments in 2015.
I'm here in the beautiful Victoria, B.C., Canada. I've never heard any violin teacher turns down a student because the person is an adult. I guess we have different mentality here. Our local conservatory is full of pro-oriented kids but also has programs open to all ages. I just finished a three-week summer string academy/boot camp and have made friends with teachers, kids and their parents. This is how we feel: we want to play the violin and make music. No matter what stage one is at, we are all on the same path of learning to do as well we can. What's that got to do with age?
Adults may not stick to it, but from what I've observed, they've stuck to it longer than children. Children don't practice. They are inundated with homework and other extracurricular activities. They end up taking the Summer off and going on long vacations with family and coming back with no practice. They quit or get bored easily. The risk that any student won't stick to it is just as high across all ages. So, to say we won't accept an adult student because they don't stick to it is a little silly. When I taught for a very short while, I had all the adult students for entire time. But children came and went. I only kept a few of the same students who were younger because they'd often move, take off for the Summer, or have to choose between sports and music.
I live in Australia : About 50% of violin teachers I have ever contacted said they do not teach adult students. No reason was ever given. In the capital cities it is not too hard to find somebody to teach you but in the smaller regional towns it can be very difficult. There are heaps of piano and guitar teachers though !
I don't believe adult students are inferior to children. Talent is a small thing that may help you progress faster, but dedication and passion are the key things that keep you going. I also think that young children tend to be less studious than adults because children are less mature, though older kids are an exception. Furthermore, fractional instruments do not sound as nice as full-size ones and that may be part of why you'd question a 3-year-old's tone quality, even though bowing is part of the problem.
On the other hand, it's hard to deny the fact that children learn differently than adults and they can develop so fast at the speed that adults usually can't even begin to try. Such kids have the potentials such as winning prestigious competitions, becoming international concertizing soloists or concertmasters in big orchestras, all of which do have age limits. That said, unless you are the most sought-after teacher in town, how likely one can get such young students on a regular basis?
Idk Yixi, what you're saying seems immediately true, but when I think about it, I find that prodigious adults are about as common as prodigious kids. The main difference being that an adult already has a career, a family, and many other responsibilities. So they just don't have the time or mental energy to dedicate to the craft in the long run as compared to the kid.
Erik, what you said is not inconsistent with what I was saying; I wasn't talking about talent per se, I was talking about the external opportunities (competitions, top-notch music schools, etc.) exist for the young talented violinists but don't for anyone over a certain age. This could be the fact to drive certain teachers' focus and their teaching practice.
Getting back to the original question: different aged students require different teaching skills. I don't teach three-year-olds. I've tried; I'm not good at it; the student would do better with one of several other teachers in town who do specialize in very young children.
Yixi, I think that institutions need to start thinking about ageism as well. Competitions, summer programs, and schools should do away with them and come up with another way to try define their targets.
Hmmm Mary I suppose I never considered it as a case of them not feeling adequate to teach adults. That's an interesting possibility. I guess the only thing I'd prefer they do, then, is explain this to the adults whom they turn down, so the adults don't walk away with the impression that perhaps they shouldn't try. And I'm also pretty bad at teaching anyone under 5!
I think the only reason why a teacher should turn down a particular age group is because they have tried without success to teach them. Furthermore, they must also explain that their personality is simply not suited for teaching this particular age group, rather than saying "oh, you're too young/old to learn violin."
@Mary Ellen, I hear you. Not all discriminations are bad, of course. After all, without discrimination we can't see difference. Also, I certainly respect the fact that, in a private studio, a teacher has very right to choose who to teach or not as they see fit. That said, I still wonder it's wise to turn down someone because of older age
Ella and Erik, maybe this is better than telling the students not to try, but you still have to consider the students individually. What happens if you come across an exceptionally mature four year old that already can read? What if you come across an adult that works from home with flexible hours, has no kids or spouse, and can practice consistently? Then, you can decide, perhaps only if the students outside of your age range fit the stereotypes that you say your personality doesn't work with, to turn them down.
I repeat something I posted on a very similar thread about a year ago:
If an adult wishing to learn the violin wants to find a suitable teacher one way is to look nearby for a well-established violin dealer serving a largish area, and speak to them for advice.
I'm sure there are exceptional three- and four-year-olds but I am not going to waste the time and money of the many in an attempt to find the few. Let the young children go to teachers who enjoy that sort of teaching and are good at it, and let those teachers reap the rewards of coming across the occasional exception.
Lieschen said, "Competitions, summer programs, and schools should do away with [age restrictions] and come up with another way to try define their targets."
For my own record, I always give intro lessons to see if a student is a good fit, regardless of any factors. And as long as they feel that I'm a good fit, I will then give them 100% of my effort. I've taught very old adults, very young students, autistic students, students with motor skill impairment from brain damage, and other less-abled students. Also, left handers that insisted on being taught left-handed, etc... With that said, having such a generally unfiltered student base definitely requires more energy from me, so I can see a teacher wanting to preserve their energy for a demographic that has historically worked better for them. There is nothing wrong with specializing, as long as the teacher is honest about why they specialize (some might claim they don't teach adults because their potential is lower, rather than simply admitting they're not competent/comfortable teaching them).
I think that the precise reason teachers of exclusively pre-professional students don't think adults are worth it is because the personell of pre-professional track limits itself rather inflexibly to younger people. It is a bit of a catch 22. Most of what Lydia describes are the effects of implicit bias. Society tells us that it is dangerous to spend time in close quarters with those who are not close to your age, and it won't change until we counter gut feelings. Until an institution with a big name ( be it a competition or other program ) goes against the grain to begin to fundamentally change the culture, and we begin to check the box of adult learners making it into professional ranks of any sort ( not necessarily soloist level ), we will continue to get lots of adults scratching their heads at why a teacher won't take them.
I understand that there are exceptions to rules. If I could give intro lessons for every single new student I get, then I don't need to set age restrictions because I can use the intro lessons to determine how well student and teacher fit together. If intro lessons were not an option, then I might have to set age restrictions if necessary because I have difficulties teaching most people in a particular age group. On another topic, I believe everyone should play violin the standard way unless they have a specific disability (e.g missing left hand, fingers or arm, single-sided cerebral palsy, etc) that forces them to play left-handed (bow in left hand, violin in right).
wandering a bit off-topic...
Karen, here is the site for the summer string academy at the Victoria Conservatory of Music here in Canada.
I go to a music school, and most programs are not age-oriented in terms of admissions (at least as much as I know.)
Lieschen, adults that are realistically on a pre-professional track likely will not have difficulty finding teachers. Examples include:
Yixi, thanks a lot for the info. The program looks really interesting. If you don't mind answering some more questions about it, I will message you (if that function still works on violinist.com).
The Baltimore Symphony has BSO Academy for a week every summer, in a program that encompasses side-by-side orchestra with the BSO, chamber music with a BSO player-coach in every group, chamber orchestra, group masterclasses, and individual lessons. Attendees are a mixture of adult amateurs (at intermediate level and above) and music educators. (My experience is that the best players were amateurs, not pros.)
Karen, the private message function only works if an email address is provided in the "contact" field of a profile, which is not the case with every member.
Karen, either pm me or ask questions publicly is fine with me.
"The Buffalo Philharmonic has Fantasy Camp for a week in the summer.."
At least their orchestra hasn't gone the way of the buffalo ...
I think English for "Gulag" is "Medowmount"! ;-)
I am happy to take on adult students ... but, as mentioned above by others, per my experience they often quit after a few months of lessons either due to work load issues or they just realize how difficult this instrument is and give up... but, I know all this going in when I accept an adult student. It's an occupational hazard I accept, but realize that others do not, and that's OK... I will say that I took on an adult student a couple years back who had played some earlier in her life... She was doing well and making progress, but after a year or so with me she decided to study on-line with another performer/teacher... I gave her my blessings advising her whoever she studied with, if they are a real experienced musician/performer/teacher, would like me demand learning all her 3 octave scales and arps.... 3rds, prepared and fingered octaves, 6ths, 10ths, etc However, after a few months of lessons with the on-line teacher, he got fed up with her no doing the above and stopped teacher her... The disturbing thing to me is that she considers herself an 'artist' and is now teaching... she has basic issues like the pointed straight bow pinky (something I was trying to get her to correct - it's a huge peeve of mine), and she only plays at what I would consider a community orchestra level... I don't think she should be teaching... blind leading the blind... oh well...
Gregory, I also used to be bothered by the "blind teaching the blind" but I eventually realized that 95% of the time, the people who are satisfied - long term - with a low grade teacher are simply low grade students. The students who would do well are also the students who are willing to search to find an excellent instructor, and they quickly see through the guise of lesser teachers.
And Timothy, I've never gotten a student from anything except my online reviews, my website, word of mouth, and my analog violin shaped sign that I've stuck in the ground. I didn't make this clickbait to get students :)
Not every violinist needs to be a virtuoso to teach. Community orchestras are full of public-school music educators and private music-teachers. Some people can do a great job setting up a beginner, and maybe teaching into the early intermediate level, while still having many shortcomings in their own playing. Students switch teachers when they need more than the teacher is able to give.
Some teachers don't even need to be a virtuoso to be able to teach very advanced students. I bet many of Galamian, Delay, and Lipsetts students are/were better players than them. But these people I am sure, while probably not ever the most exceptional players, got to a fairly respectable level, probably at least studying the most difficult standard repertoire, before turning to teaching exclusively.
Not being a virtuoso is one thing (I'm certainly not one), but not knowing basic, proper technique is quite another. I think there are varying "levels" of good teachers, each specializing within a certain range of repertoire, but if the first "level" of teacher leads the student down the wrong path initially, then the 2nd "level" of teacher has to work backwards with the student in order to get them on the right track again, and that can be detrimental.
(apologies for dredging this up again)
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