Teaching Methods for Adults

September 17, 2019, 8:03 AM · I had a teacher who took me thru Suzuki Violin 3. We practiced scales and third position too. She left the area, and I found another teacher who has taken me back to "String Builder, Book 1" and in over a year and 1/2, I am only on page 10. Looks like I don't have perfect pitch and my bow isn't always straight. String Builder is playing one or two notes, so I am forgetting the other notes and my scales. My question: Will I get good intonation and a straight bow if I can practice the scales again or do I need to go back to the beginning to be a good player. I don't think I"ll live long enough to go through everything again, as I am an older adult. :). She is suggesting I go back to Suzuki book one as well.
Any advice welcome. Thanks!

Replies (21)

September 17, 2019, 8:35 AM · If you are not making music then there is no point to the practice. And musical etudes are songs that double as scale and bow exercises.

My suggestion is to select a musical genre of interest, search the internet for a simple version of that music, get it transcribed to the keys of G, D, A or E or their related minors, then practice slowly until you can play it at speed.

If you need help selecting and transcribing a piece, I and others here would be more than willing to help.

If your goal is to play professionally, then you have little choice than to deal with the tedium of perfecting your technique.

Otherwise, take the advice of one of the greatest violinists of our time Nathan Milstein:

"There are plenty of scales in music."

September 17, 2019, 10:13 AM · I don't know what's going on in your lessons- with your teacher or with you, but 10 pages in 1.5 years isn't reasonable progress, in my opinion as a teacher. I don't know how long it took you to go through Suzuki 1-3, but if it was anything less than a year and a half to two years, that was too fast.

Again, I'm not there, but that's my experience as a teacher. About a year, give or take, depending on the student, per book.

Edited: September 17, 2019, 11:14 AM · It took me close to three years (I had violin ten years ago and picked it up again) to get to Suzuki 3. My current teacher is a real perfectionist, and has an advanced degree in violin but not in teaching. If that matters. She doesn't like to progress unless the tone rings and the bow is perfectly straight. Obviously, I'm deficient in that. :) That is how she was taught, but her goal is to be professional.
Edited: September 17, 2019, 11:59 AM · Six weeks from now I will "celebrate" 81 years since I receive my first violin. After 6 months of "do it myself" and 7 years of professional lessons I quit because I had gone that far yet knew no other child who played a portable instrument and I was unhappy with my progress.

I resumed playing after about 18 months hiatus and did not stop for the next ~71 years - even adding cello and finally viola. For about 40 of those years I gave violin and cello lessons to children and adults as a paid avocation and during all of those years I have played orchestral, chamber and solo music for my own joy and amazement and in public.

From all this experience I know that some people who play music "have IT" but most don't! There is a balance below perfection at which making music can be enjoyed and that balance is well experiencing.

My final 2 years of formal violin training between age 10 and 12 were at the Manhattan School of Music and were grueling for me and must have been for my teacher as well. I made more progress on my own the summer I was 14 than I had in those 2 final lesson years.

Straight bowing can be quickly enhanced by using one of those devices for Straight bowing on violin ("collimator" or "bow-right") such as sold on Amazon.com - they really can work if you appreciate and learn what they teach you about how to hold the bow AND the instrument in relation to your own body dynamics. Learning decent intonation seems to be greatly enhanced by playing familiar tunes - decades before Suzuki came to America, back in 1939, the first piece my Italian teacher had 4-1/2 year old me work on was "Twinkle."

Just saying. A great violinist is not necessarily the best teacher - one who fully understands the problems of many levels of students is often more helpful. This takes experience.

Edited: September 17, 2019, 1:40 PM · May I respectfully suggest that a conversation between you and your teacher is way overdue. Ten pages in 1.5 years is crazy.

One of the distinctions I make when teaching adults vs teaching kids is that I ask the adult student what it is they want to achieve and then everything is aimed in that direction. It's OK for the adult not to get everything perfectly before moving forward; it isn't as if I'm going to ruin the student's chance of becoming a professional. That horse is long since out of the barn. So I stress less about technical perfection, and lean more in the area of enjoyment--not that I'm not trying to fix things; I am. But not at the expense of the adult student's ability to spend time doing whatever it is that they want to do.

Editing to add, I just realized you're the same poster who has posted about your teacher being unwilling to work with you on your ensemble music. I can't really wrap my mind around that level of rigidity in teaching.

September 17, 2019, 8:38 PM · On one hand, I understand prioritizing technique over repertoire (such that you don't spend life eking out repertoire that is beyond your technique), but on the other, the degree to which that is done could be excessive or unnecessary depending on the context. No teacher would say that good intonation or straight bow aren't important but the differences between teachers will be how accurate/consistent to expect at certain stages of your development as a player. "Going back" to Suzuki book 1 basically means there's too much going in the music of book 3 to be able to spare the concentration to pay attention to things like pitch accuracy or bow contact point.

My latest child transfer student came in with a book 3 piece in progress, and before accepting him, I explained my approach to transfer students. He has no severe deficiencies, but there are still aspects of RH and LH technique that I want to keep an eye on, as well as do more with musical expression befitting of his age/level. We are going through book 1-2 pieces for these things, and I make sure to point out where the same/related/upgraded skill is used in book 3.

My latest adult beginner needs the Twinkle variations as the children do, for tone, string crossings, finger action, finger pattern, rhythm, etc. We do that for half the time, then work on simple folk tunes and themes that she brings in (hand copied from another book - the process helps her to get more familiar with identifying notes). We often can only get to 1 or 2 measures of 1 or 2 of those little pieces. I'm fine with that for an adult although I would not spend half of a child's lessons going measure by measure.

September 17, 2019, 8:39 PM · Thanks Andrew, very wise advice. So encouraging to hear how long you have been playing music.
Edited: September 17, 2019, 8:42 PM · Thank you Mary Ellen, and everyone else too. I had a talk by phone with a potential new teacher and she gets what I am trying to do. I really like my current teacher personally, so it will be hard to leave. But i had to sort it out and have lost so much confidence in my own ability with this method. I am grateful for this forum and the expertise here. Thanks again!!

September 18, 2019, 10:06 AM · Good luck Kathy, it's hard to change but you need to do what's best for you. I'm an adult returnee (9 months ago) and am making good progress in Suzuki 2. I've always had outside pieces - some I've picked turned out to be more challenging than I anticipated.

My teacher now only teaches adults. He doesn't expect perfection at my level, but will point out if my intonation or bowing drifts too far from what he expects. That tolerance is much tighter than it once was, which to me is encouraging. He also wants me in his adult student string ensemble next year so that's driving the direction of this. (The goal for that is to finish Suzuki 3.)

There are quite a few who teach who are not natural teachers. I'm fortunate to have one, and I wish you the best in finding one for yourself!

Edited: September 18, 2019, 12:44 PM · Dear Kathy,

I learned violin as a child, from age 5 to 17. My childhood teacher, in hindsight, was not very good. I set the violin aside for 25 years.

Fast forward to my mid 40s. New teacher asks me to "play something" so I played what I was working on when I was 17, Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major. After a couple of pages we had a little talk, and he asked me, "Do you have any Suzuki books?" I went back to Book 4. Mozart 3 is somewhere between Book 8 and Book 9 level.

But I was relieved actually, because it was painfully obvious that the Mozart was way over my head. I had so many bad habits and it was refreshing to know that I was finally going to be taught properly. I'm too old (and I'm guessing you are too) to do anything BUT learn properly this time. If you're like me, you'll relish the opportunity.

Edited: September 18, 2019, 12:58 PM · I started just before I turned 68, and never touched a Suzuki book. My wise and talented teacher had me jump right in to exercises and tunes. I tried those little colored lines on the violin, but had them removed after two months, I decided to get pitch and intonation through instinct and my ears. I'm now at 2 1/3 years, 97 lessons, and 1000 hours of practice/playing. We're knocking out Irish tunes, Scandinavian tunes, classical music, fiddle tunes, and pop tunes. I'm dedicated to learning technique, but I'm also dedicated to having fun with a violin. How is my technique? Better than it was last month, but not as good as it will be next month. I tape my lessons, then I sit down and write them out, placing the written copy on my music stand and reading the notes prior to each practice session. I practice for roughly 60 - 120 minutes a day. Frankly, I find the philosophy of waiting-until-you-are-ready to be total bunk. Just go out there and play somewhere. I mean, I'm 70. Waiting isn't an option. After I played for 12 months I decided I deserved my own recital. I booked a pub on a Sunday afternoon, invited my friends, and while they ate pizza and drank a few beers, I played. (The pizza got better reviews than I did, but so what? It was fun! I may do it again!) At this point I'm not locked into anything. I've learned all the major and minor scales, I play second and third positions, and two months ago I started playing in open mic shows with those 20-30 year old hipsters.(Narcissism is alive and well and apparently in its 20's) You want to play? Then get someone who isn't stuck on Suzuki and perfection. Just get out there and go for it.
September 18, 2019, 1:21 PM · Kathy, how much do you practice each week, on average? Would you say your practice is consistent or sporadic?

Do you attend every lesson (or at least 90% of them)? Are your lessons weekly? How long are they?

September 18, 2019, 5:53 PM · …...Will I get good intonation and a straight bow if I can practice the scales again or do I need to go back to the beginning to be a good player...


You have identified areas of technique that need improvement, scales and arpeggios are a good source of material because they can be basic and increase in difficulty, but it is needed how to practice them to improve specific techniques. Find out what is needed to focus on and isolate each technical aspect for practice.

Choose any other pieces of music you desire to play that is within your skill level and include in your practice routine.


September 19, 2019, 3:56 PM · Kathy, when you have a chance, please answer my earlier question.
September 19, 2019, 5:47 PM · Erik Williams, I practice 30 min to one hour per day. I am not always practicing what we have gone over because playing the same two notes over and over is frankly, boring. So I try to learn some celtic tunes. Now that orchestra has started up again, I have those songs to practice on my own. I wish we could practice orchestra pieces too. my lessons are an hour.
Edited: September 20, 2019, 12:24 PM · Here is a good scale book for a beginning adult, an oldie but a goodie: Scales in First Position by Harvey Whistler.

It has basic first position scales, as well as a little fingerboard chart for each of the keys. It takes you through the same progression of exercises and rhythms for each scale, making it something you can really master. Then when you have finished the book, it's still a nice reference because of the charts.

September 20, 2019, 12:54 PM · Simple answer is scales and studies never go away. Should be a big part of everyone’s practice routine, regardless of experience. My teachers philosophy is that you could spend 100% of your time on scales and studies, so when music is put in front of you , it is playable immediately. The only thing then to work on would be the phrasing/expression
September 23, 2019, 8:18 AM · Kathy - this takes my attention: "I am not always practicing what we have gone over"

Of course, I don't know what you've gone over. Maybe I would agree or disagree with the level of precision but it doesn't matter because I'm not your teacher. But if your lessons are repeatedly about the "the same two notes", it stands to reason that whatever the teacher has in mind, you haven't done it (or haven't made enough progress towards it, whatever "enough" or "it" is), and that is why your next lesson is on the same thing. There is a communication breakdown over what to do or how to do it.

"I wish we could practice orchestra pieces too."
First thought, I'm not familiar with your past posts but perhaps you have asked to work on those and been told no? Was the reason given? Second thought, this could just be semantics, but "practicing" in your lesson could be "playing through orchestra pieces" slowly or at tempo with you or doing practice techniques for particular tricky spots or working on the tools that will help you learn the piece yourself (instead of "teaching you the piece" - at this level probably meaning notes in the right place at the right time). What is it that you've asked for?

In my opinion, if effort is made to understand the student's values and the teacher's values and there is an unresolvable mismatch, that is part of making an informed decision to change.

September 23, 2019, 3:23 PM · Kathy - I'm a very late starter (60s) and self-teaching from necessity. It's not ideal, but it does mean I can focus on my main priority, which is having fun with music I love.

Your current regime sounds utterly joyless - your teacher simply doesn't seem to understand the priorities for working with adult starters. We're never going to be concert pros, so if we're not having fun with the music, what's the point?

I work hard on my technique, but mainly in the context of learning repertoire, which I find much more enjoyable than dry technical exercises. I do spend a bit of time with conventional exercises (mainly Simon Fischer or Louis Kievman) or little things that I make up, but then I'll dig out a couple of great tunes that major on that issue and work on them.

I work easier tunes up to performance level, but I also stretch myself with virtuoso pieces that I know will take years to master. Or I'll simply sightread through a book of tunes or pick up tunes off recordings. It's all grist to the mill, and I'm learning from everything I tackle. If I never moved on before I achieved perfection I'd have died of boredom.

This may not be the fastest way to progress, but I'm getting better year by hear and having a ball. I play well enough to sit in with professional folk musicians without embarrassing myself and play the odd charity gig without scaring the horses. What more do I need?

You really should consider finding a teacher who understands how to help you develop your technique through enjoyable music. Loosen up and have some fun!

September 23, 2019, 3:52 PM · One third scales, one third sorting out new stuff, and one third known stuff.

So 2/3 quality, and 1/3 struggle..

September 23, 2019, 8:39 PM · I recall it was Simon Fischer who said (something to the effect) that whatever the eventual aim of any player, if they are going to put bow to string at all then they should learn the best possible way of doing it.

Building a solid technical foundation (paying the price, so to speak) is a critical part of the process that brings so much joy to us.


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