Curiosity question: Which bad teacher situation do you think is more common?

Edited: September 22, 2019, 5:39 PM · Hi everyone,
A recent thread got me thinking, which bad teacher scenario do you think is generally more common, and why? This is assuming the student is putting in a decent amount of effort and has no additional learning difficulties.

1. A student who has played for five years is still on Suzuki book 2.

2. A student makes medium to fast progress but is rushing through repertoire and playing pieces way beyond their technical/musical level.

I am just curious and am not looking for advice.

Replies (29)

September 21, 2019, 3:22 PM · I would say the first because it means that the teacher has to put in the least amount effort possible teaching things that are well within their own ability
September 21, 2019, 4:31 PM · Tosi, Opinioni de' cantori antichi e modern (1723):

The teacher should consider how much time he would have to spend with one who is not so talented and how great his obligation is to accommodate himself to the student's ability. In a teacher who teaches only for his bread, one cannot be assured of this necessary dedication. His other students are waiting for him. He is in a bad humor over the daily grind. Necessity drives him. He thinks the month stretches long before him. He looks at the clock and leaves. If he teaches for a fairly good fee, we wish him luck.

September 21, 2019, 7:00 PM · I've had experience with the second type the first time I tried to return to violin as an adult after having had public school-supplied group lessons from 4th until 11th grade. Those early lessons tended to be aimed at the best player in the group, who was not me! My teacher when I started again at 30 had me playing things from Suzuki books 6 and 7, all of which were somewhat beyond me technically. She didn't work on my right hand technique at all. I seem to have retained some shifting ability (now in my 60s) and my intonation isn't terrible.

After a long hiatus, I started this year with a really good teacher who has helped me rebuild my bowing, develop vibrato (still not there, but getting close), and given me strategies for improving tone, intonation, double stops, basically everything. I'm not sure I realized how bad my earlier teachers had been until I met this teacher.

September 21, 2019, 7:23 PM · These are both stemming from the same problem. That is to say, both scenarios show the teachers inability to assess the zone of proximal development (zpd)

Both teachers are in my eyes equally "bad" I suppose, but the ideas behind their structure may be well intended.

September 22, 2019, 2:37 AM · Another sort of "bad" teacher is one who does not transmit aspects which he/she does without thinking, but still criticising the result.
September 22, 2019, 9:16 AM · I have personally seen way more of 2 (rushing), than 1 (too slow). On the rare occasion I have encountered a student from a #1 teacher, the student usually has very good technique, the teacher is just ridiculously perfectionistic, but otherwise the student plays quite well. While the teaching situation is not ideal, they are IMO in a much better place when they do switch teachers to take off and move more quickly. (Also, more times than not, you usually find that when a student moves slowly through the repertoire, practice amount, or quality is an issue, or the student started very young and is not receiving sufficient help from a parent).
On the other hand, the students who are rushed through repertoire, without a solid foundation often have to undo years of sloppy playing and bad habits, which is often extremely demoralizing.

One of the hardest things to determine as a teacher is when to move on the the next piece, how fast to go, and what to assign next to a motivated student. There are standard progressions of repertoire, Suzuki books, etc, but each student demands a different level of polish or challenge depending on age, maturity, focus, practice time, etc..
One student might get easily bored with pieces and stop practicing a piece short of the level of polish I would prefer. I might need to assign several pieces or etudes at the same level to ensure they stay interested while developing technique.
Another student might be so motivated and detail oriented that I could assign them a piece one level above where they actually are and they will rise to the occasion and level up their technique quickly.
The majority of students are happy to proceed through the Suzuki books at a reasonable pace with a few carefully chosen supplemental pieces at a reasonable level of polish.

All that said, however, a "bad teacher" in my opinion is one who (however fast or slow they go in the repertoire), does not insist on correct posture, bow hold, and left hand position, by constantly bringing up and correcting these issues. It doesn't mean you can't move past book 1 with slightly imperfect posture, just that the student should be constantly reminded and corrected on these things until they are second nature (whether that happens in book 1 or book 5+).
My other teaching pet peeve is when bow technique and/or musical expression (other than basic dynamics) is completely ignored until a student is advanced. Or students are told to "play with feeling" rather than being guided on how to play more musically using bow speed, weight, contact point, timing, phrasing, dynamics, etc..

Edited: September 22, 2019, 1:06 PM · Why must the teacher shoulder all the blame for an inferior result?

A student who has played five years and is still in Suzuki Book 2 might only be practicing ten minutes a day and may have very little innate ability to concentrate or even any genuine interest in learning the violin. Very often the rush to reach advanced repertoire is driven by the student or his/her (tiger) parents.

In university teaching we face this prejudice all the time. If "too high" of a percentage of the students are getting D's or F's, it must be our fault for "teaching badly" or "writing tests that are too hard." It can't ever be the students' fault.

September 22, 2019, 10:29 AM · Forget the rate of advancement - the teacher must be musical and know how to produce music - not just perform rote skills. Good teaching requires passion for one's subject for all kinds of students.
September 22, 2019, 12:00 PM · Paul, in my previous post on this topic, my concern was specifically about students who apparently are putting in regular, serious practice, and still seem to be advancing at a glacial pace.
Edited: September 22, 2019, 5:28 PM · Before going off on a tangent, let me answer the original question: based on my personal experience, situation #2 is far worse, more common, and more harmful than situation #1. But of course, they're both bad. The issue is that with situation #2 (a student progressing too fast into territory where they can't play with quality) is that their expectations and perception of their own playing is artificially inflated, and at *some* point in their future playing, that bubble is going to burst. When it bursts, they are going to feel terribly discouraged. And let me tell you: there is no worse situation than a severely discouraged student. Because not only do they feel like they wasted all this time doing things the wrong way and playing at too high of a level, but they now need to feel like they're working *backwards* for a good while just to "catch up" to where they should have been. I think the #2 scenario is the most harmful not because of bad technique (although that's large part of it), but because of the mental/emotional consequences.

Ok, now for my tangent:

You know how "cold" isn't really a thing of its own, but is simply an absence of heat? I think the same thing is true of "bad" teachers. The less of the positive traits they have, the worse they are. So, I will make a list of the traits that I think comprise the best possible teacher (in a general sense; keep in mind that the best teacher for a specific student may be slightly different). If a teacher has less of these traits, I consider them worse, and if they have more, I consider them better. There is no definitive line where we can suddenly call someone a "bad" teacher, unless they have 0 of the positive traits. There is simply "worse" and "better".


Good teachers (in no particular order):

1) Adjust their personality and communication style based on each individual student. Some need very gentle, others need a more pushy approach. Some need very simple explanations, others could use more detail.

2) Change their expectations with each student. The expectations should always be somewhat high, but only relative to that student's ability.

3) Be persistent, but gentle. A teacher should never lose their patience with a student, but they also shouldn't ever "give up" with a student and just let bad habits form. Whether it has to be said 10 times or 1000 times, it still needs to be said. But nicely.

4) Be willing to tell the student what they need to do. Sometimes teachers can be a bit too shy and they're afraid of discouraging the student by giving them expectations. But keep in mind that as long as it's said gently, there is nothing wrong with telling the student the truth about what is expected of them.

5) *THINK* before speaking. Sometimes a good 30 seconds of silence (or more) is needed to really comprehend the next step. Teachers aren't robots that can just spit out the perfect advice as soon as the playing stops.... they are humans that need time to process. It's much better to take the extra time and deal with the awkward silence, but give excellent advice, than to simply keep saying "let's try this, let's try that" so the student feels like they're getting more money's worth. 1 piece of great, well-thought-out advice is worth way more than 100 pieces of shallow advice. From what I think I've heard, Dorothy Delay used to sit for silence, sometimes for minutes, just processing what to tell the student. But when she finally gave the advice, it was always worth hearing.

6) Know when to let something go: if you've tried multiple different ways to get a student to "Get" something and it's still just not happening, it's fine to come back to it at a later time. As violinists, we are naturally obsessive, but we really need to keep an awareness of if we're being too obsessive about one little thing when we could more efficiently use that time to cover other points. This isn't "giving up," it is simply taking a detour rather than sitting in traffic and losing our patience.

7) The teacher should be able to perform the current piece at a higher level than the student, and should always be many steps ahead. If you feel like you're learning the piece *with* the student, then it's not a good situation, and it either means that the student has finally become too advanced for you to teach, or it's also possible that you have just chosen too difficult of a piece for the student.

8) Balance technical progression with musical progression. Know that there are many types of progress in music. Your job, as a teacher, is mainly to help create a good musician. If you're only leading them down the path of technical proficiency but not focusing equally on musical beauty, then you're not creating a good, balanced musician. Don't be afraid to give "easy" pieces where things like vibrato, tonal control, and emotive capacity can be worked on.

9) Has a wide range of explanatory "tools" with which to describe how to do something. Some students respond to analogies, others respond to direct physical/anatomical explanation. Also, the teacher should be able to "dumb down" information depending on the comprehension skills of the student. Sometimes processing time is necessary to think of what language structure should be used for which student.

10) Know what information *NOT* to say. I feel this is a big point: a good lesson stems from only the most relevant info being given, rather than overwhelming the student with way too much information. Much like how silence between the notes is often as important as the notes themselves.

11) The teacher should have a broad range of repertoire at all levels that they intend to teach at. This includes both technical studies as well as actual music. The more music the instructor knows, the more likely that they can pull out a piece that fits the student's needs at that moment.

Edited: September 22, 2019, 5:43 PM · Thank you all for your answers. It's an interesting discussion indeed. I changed the thread title to reflect my question better as I was struggling to come up with a good thread title at first.

And kudos to Erik for posting a detailed list of traits found in a good music teacher.

Edited: September 22, 2019, 8:01 PM · When #1 was mentioned, I said that I have 5 and 6 year long children students in book 1. They/parents seem to enjoy coming and spending their one practice session per week with me despite the complete lack of other initiative. One was a particularly "exuberant youngster" and has made strides in the realm of growing up and maturity.

I happen to have a student who is 5 years long and in book 2. I don't doubt effort is being made but there is a low level (compared to others) of self-awareness/self-correction on new material. She demonstrates an understanding in front of me, it's written in the book or parent has taken notes, yet at home they don't notice(?) when it has reverted to the undesirable state.

She also spends practice time on a second instrument, and she's had two full years of string orchestra with me, doing a lot of extra repertoire. She plays well enough in tune without tapes (except 3 - I leave that on to help with 3rd position), with consistently clear tone free of scratches and squeaks, breathing and tapering phrases, varied and appropriate articulation. We are accomplishing worthwhile things, so I/parents have no issue with being "still in book 2".

On the other hand, for my *former* student who was 5 years long and in book 2, they didn't want to be as thorough and maybe didn't feel that supplementary repertoire "counted" for progress/accomplishment. I know they were also attentive to "being passed" by others outside my studio. This is a drawback of a well-known order of repertoire - too easy to compare numbering and jump to conclusions.

Students don't leave because I do #1; they leave because I don't do #2. It's certainly not a style that suits everyone. (Clarification: they would not feel it was rushing; I would.)

(I still remember the transfer student who played the first G major piece in Suzuki book 1 with all C#. A few months later, ear and hand coordination is improving but we're "still on Etude" so it looks like I'm a bad/slow teacher and they disappear after winter break, oh well. I do better job with transfer expectations now.)

September 22, 2019, 7:38 PM · In my limited experience I’ve run into the second situation.
Edited: September 22, 2019, 8:15 PM ·

The second is what I've experienced most.

There are two poor teaching extremes involved: over-correcting or unable to correct(ignore).

Why?? Well I can wright a book on why...


September 22, 2019, 10:29 PM · #2 is much more common. It's painful to listen to students trying to play pieces that are way beyond them but it happens all the time.
Edited: September 23, 2019, 5:38 AM · Eric, in my opinion, features like communication style or expectations are far inferior to the actual content the teacher has to deliver.

If a teacher cannot explain, illustrate the very physical requirements of achieving musical ends, no amount of gentle love is going to improve the students technique. Also, there are many teachers who can show a technique, having absorbed it by will or chance over the years, but still cannot really explain and break it down. Similarly, if a teacher can't pinpoint the underlying causes for feeble technique, there's going to be a lot of time wasted.

There were and are great artists who had seemingly grumpy or stoic teachers who cared not a whole lot to tailor their style according to the students' personalities. Yet they were astute skill builders.

The best teachers I've had (as an adult beginner) showed their passion for teaching not through style of teaching but through their dedication to the substance.

September 23, 2019, 6:06 AM · No 2 is often preferred by parents: better value for money......
Edited: September 23, 2019, 8:01 AM · I've also seen a lot more of #2. But you can't usually tell how long a "Suzuki book 2" student has been taking lessons unless you interview them, so there could be a lot more of #1. I've seen a lot of #1, too; where I grew up, it was the norm for students getting weekly group instruction in public schools.


September 23, 2019, 2:47 PM · I think it depends on the situation as to which is worse for which student. For a student who is SUPER motivated and ambitious and is brought through the rep too quickly/playing stuff above their level - #2 is worse in the long run even though I'd wager that a #1 teacher would feel worse for said student.

And, it's not about the speed at which a student is or is not working through the material but the student's ability to absorb and learn, then integrate/embody, the material being taught in lessons - and being honest about that.

Giving the student and the teacher the benefit of the doubt: they are practicing 30-60mins a day and they are still on Suzuki book 2 after five years. Maybe the teacher is doing their best and the student is unable to learn the violin in a classical sense, and this is their max? Maybe switching material, or instruments, is the solution? I'm not saying problem #1 is the student's fault, because the teacher could be unreasonable - but maybe the student **thinks** they are practicing correctly and are not, or they simply are not jiving with the violin/Suzuki material?

Edited: September 23, 2019, 10:11 PM · Here is what I think about No. 2 ("hot-housing"). It may be a perfectly reasonable strategy to give young students challenging pieces to ramp their skills up at a faster rate. But there are two supporting factors that must be in place for it to work. First, the teacher needs to be spending a lot of lesson time on the practice techniques needed to tackle the tricky parts of the piece, which presumes they actually know how to teach that. And second, the student needs to have the resources of concentration and commitment to work on those sections diligently at home. Neither is a given.

And it can't be insane. If a student has never done any octave studies, then please, no Mendelssohn E Minor. Solo Bach should not be their introduction to double stops.

September 24, 2019, 10:14 AM · I agree with you Paul. I guess I'm thinking about #2 in that neither of those things are occurring, and insanity in rep difficulty is occurring...

Sometimes I wonder if a student is hot-housed when they show a lot of potential and the teacher underestimates the depth of their foundational knowledge/ability.

And likewise, maybe students get stuck in #1 because the teacher has insanely high standards, or uses strategy #1 to haze their students to winnow out the "less serious" from the "dedicated".

September 24, 2019, 1:27 PM · I love Eric's answer. My current teacher is all of those, at least those I can judge as a student. Interestingly, some of those skills are good communication skills in general: think before speaking, know when to let something go :)
September 24, 2019, 9:14 PM · I probably should have added another thing to my list: A good teacher knows when to target emotional/psychological issues instead of just jumping into playing. For example, sometimes spending the first 20% of a lesson just getting a student to relax is far more efficient than going directly to playing (as in the case of very anxious students). Otherwise it's just a domino effect of one failure after another, each attempt getting worse than the last.

Whether we like it or not, a big part of being an effective music teacher for a broad portion of the population is knowing how to give basic emotional therapy.

September 25, 2019, 7:20 AM ·

"it may be a perfectly reasonable strategy to give young students challenging pieces to ramp their skills up at a faster rate. But there are two supporting factors that must be in place for it to work." - Paul

To reiterate what Paul says, important prerequisites are not being met. So give them even more challenges? For intermediate students it's a good idea, because they have the fundamentals down, but for new students it really sends them backwards or stalls progress.
One of my top pet peeves is getting students who are playing intermediate repertoire, but can't pitch match. In other words, if you can't pitch match you are still a beginner. If you've been playing for 5 years and haven't been taught to pitch match, you are still a beginner.

60 to 90% of the notes you are playing are out of tune!!!


September 27, 2019, 1:06 AM · Erik, where do you teach?

(Please say California)

Edited: September 27, 2019, 1:17 AM · My impression from other forums is that there are lots of type 1s.
I am a type 2, but it's my doing, not my teacher's.
I'm trying to progress faster than I did as a teenager because I hope it's in me as an adult to achieve it. Otoh, I'm self-aware, and I have set myself a régime of scales, arps, Whistler and Kreutzer to bring my technical level up to my musical level, maybe by the end of January.
Mainly I'm trying to progress faster than I did as a teenager by doing more practice than I did as a teenager.
Whatever, as long as I'm improving as fast as I can and my teacher corrects problems before they become serious, that's all that I can really hope for.
But if a teacher inflicted that on a student, the student may be in serious trouble.
September 27, 2019, 1:24 AM · Aika, I teach in Sacramento, California. Why do you ask?
October 1, 2019, 8:20 PM · Is there any way for a student to know if they are in situation 1 or 2, or is it only something that can be diagnosed by another teacher? The pieces my teacher gives me all feel harder than I can play well, but I feel like I am learning from them and improving. That said, because they are hard, I know I am not playing all the notes in tune and often can’t play up to speed. But I do work on intonation with slow practice and have practice techniques for problem areas. I just don’t think I can play any of the pieces really well or beautifully.
October 2, 2019, 5:53 PM · Excellent Question CQ but you should start a new thread with this very important question.


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