Two Teachers-Same Time - Different Focus - Confusing!

Edited: December 19, 2019, 2:51 PM · My regular teacher is out of the country for two months. She's in Australia visiting family, dealing with all the smoke from the fires, and (despite the smoke) she's relaxing. We do occasional lessons on FaceTime while she's gone.

Since I won't have regular weekly lessons, just for fun I started some Irish fiddle lessons with another teacher, and as good as he is,(He's really good!) I've run into some problems. No offense to him, he approaches the bow hand differently with a more pronounced bend in the right wrist. There is a lot more slur with the bow, and a focus on the rhythm and beat being most important. "Irish dancers don't care if you hit a C# or a C natural, what direction the bow goes, or anything like that, as long as you keep the beat."

Well, that's all great, but I actually care about hitting a C# or a C natural, and going from his lessons to hers and then back to his has thrown me for a loop. Bend the wrist for the Irish music, keep the wrist less bent for the other music, and so on.

It's making me very crabby.

So, my question is this - Have you ever had two teachers with different techniques at the same time? Has it worked for you? Not to denigrate either teacher - they are both dedicated and focused - but is it worth it?

My gut is telling me to stick to my regular teacher and go to the other teacher somewhere down the line (if at all). What do you think? Thanks.

Replies (22)

December 19, 2019, 3:01 PM · When a teacher wants me to change something that I know works and that I like, I will still try their suggestion. But if I don't like what they're showing me, I tell them it's my way or the highway (after explaining my reasoning of course). Granted, this is usually when it comes to interpretation and ornamentation because nobody has much to say about the fundamentals of my technique, but I imagine the same attitude would apply in your case.
December 19, 2019, 3:18 PM · It may be that your rhythmic sense is bad enough that this new teacher is trying to get you to focus on it entirely by telling you it's OK to leave intonation behind for a bit. Sometimes we need to "think like a drummer" in order to make improvement. A drummer doesn't worry about C vs C#, they just worry about hitting their notes at the correct time. In a perfect world, we would do all of the correct things simultaneously, but that's just not how learning works.

Keep in mind that you're very used to being taught by one person, which means that their "blind spots" have become your blind spots. All teachers have some sort of blind spot, particularly after they've taught the same student for a while. Try to be open minded to new concepts, especially ones that seem a bit sacreligious. Those are often the ones you need to hear the most (this is assuming, of course, that you have faith that the teacher is a good player).

December 19, 2019, 3:55 PM · Trying to please two different teachers with different techniques can lead to madness. Not only do you have to remember which technique to use with which teacher, but using two very opposing techniques such as very different bow wrist angles means that while practicing one technique you're not spending that time improving the other technique. Which is why you're becoming very crabby. My advice is to stick with the teacher who is teaching you the music you prefer to play most of the time.

Just as the Irish dancers don't care if you play a C or C# (some of them might actually care!) or the direction of the bow (nobody cares about that in Irish music) they also don't care about your wrist position, so if you want to play Irish (or any Celtic or folk) fiddle music play the music getting the rhythms right and keeping a steady beat, playing all the Cs correctly (C or C# as the music shows) and use the same wrist as you use for your "classical" teacher.

Or stop taking lessons with the Irish fiddler.

December 19, 2019, 4:03 PM · Also keep in mind that fiddle technique is not classical technique.

I recently did a community music school's survey of a variety of fiddle styles in a group-class setting. The teacher had grown up taking formal classical lessons but also steeped deeply in hanging out with traditional old-timey fiddlers, and then branched out to other styles as well. He had a variety of interesting things to say about the different right-hand approaches common to different styles. I enjoyed the class, but it was surprisingly difficult to break deeply ingrained right-hand habits, even when focusing completely on it.

If you want to fiddle in an idiomatic fashion, you need to draw a line in your head between your classical approach and your fiddling approach, and be able to switch between them. f you aren't ready to be able to handle that, you don't want to learn two styles at the same time now.

Honestly, in classical, you also need to keep the beat. Especially in any kind of ensemble playing (which includes accompanying dancers), muff the note if you have to, or fake, but whatever you do, don't lose the pulse.

If you cannot play in tune while keeping the beat, you need to drop down to a tempo where you can play correctly without distorting the rhythm with hesitations.

December 19, 2019, 4:22 PM · I moved to Ireland (Northern Ireland) a lot of years ago.
One of the first things I learned is that I CANNOT play Irish fiddle music. It's a completely different technique. In my classical trading, it's about controlling the bow bounce -Mozart, Haydn symphonies etc. In fiddle music, the bow is glued to the string. Sound production is very different. And, of course, the bow grip is VERY different. So is the left hand.
I think everyone has to choose one or the other.
Some of my friends have played Irish fiddle music in pubs etc., but I'm sure it's not like "proper" Irish fiddle players.
December 19, 2019, 5:01 PM · The right note at the wrong time is a wrong note - regardless of genre.
December 19, 2019, 5:35 PM · Charlie is right; and I would actually argue that rhythm/tempo is even more important, in any genre, than intonation is.
Edited: December 19, 2019, 5:47 PM · Welcome to the ancient "observations" about fiddling and playing violin.

First, in defence of fiddlers, let me offer the insights that most fiddlers of a century and more past were (a) self taught, (b) made their own strings, and not until they really had to, (c) did not have a tuning fork (only invented in about 1812, I think), (d) did not read music, (e) claimed they learned by ear (aural method) -- but how much and what they learned by ear is very debatable, hence we have so many variations of the same general melodies, etc

They formed the notes between the open strings by "putting their fingers down" (actually investigated by academic researchers, including Dr Tom Anderson).

Some of the tunes they played were conceived for modal instruments (pipes and harps, in the main, but also lutes, etc).

Intonation was such that fiddling was a solo art. At one time in the mid 1850's there were as many as 20 excellent fiddlers in a northern town in the Shetland Islands, but there is no record of them ever playing, even in duets, trios, together. Fiddling is for solo fiddle (and comps, sometimes).

It is not remarkable at all that many of them "retired early in their fiddling careers". In the 1950's there were enough fiddles on the Sheltand Islands for there to be one fiddle for one in 14 males (females didn't fiddle, back then), but fiddling itself was almost extinct. Hence Tom Anderson instituted the pipers' teaching method of a big ring of fiddlers playing in "unison"( 1962), now heralded as the way it has always been done (yes, but not by fiddlers).

Also, most of the good fiddlers (national contest winners) today are degree trained violinists: research a few, to test this observation.

So, nothing stops a good violinist from learning to fiddle. If it should be a C#, and you play a C#, you will not be wrong. Just work hard to get the lift, the lilt, the feel of the dance style at hand. Oh, and the ornaments, especially at a brisk speed.

Edited: December 19, 2019, 6:25 PM · Second what Lydia said: Fiddle technique and Classical technique are two separate things. In fiddle, it's not necessarily the beat, or tempo. Of course you have to keep a steady beat, just as you do in classical music. It's more of the equivalent to an accent or how one stresses syllables of a word.

December 19, 2019, 6:49 PM · I've seen classically trained violinists play classical music and self- (or experience-) taught fiddlers and classically trained fiddlers playing "fiddle music" - but the latter play it in tune - with cleaner "chops" and even with some appropriate vibrato!
December 19, 2019, 7:00 PM · I have the same as you - a classical teacher and an Irishbfiddle teacher. I haven’t felt like there are any conflicts, but that may be because my fiddle teacher hasn’t told me to hold the bow any particular way or use any particular posture. He more tell me how to make it sound. I have had extensive instruction from the classical teacher in terms of coordinating my physical movements to serve the musical ideas, get the best sound, achieve certain technical things, etc.

When i think what it would be like with two teachers telling you to fundamentally change your playing movements, it sounds totoally
maddening. Of course they take different skills, but there’s also lots of overlap. Why do you think the fiddle teacher is insisting you play in his way? I agree it sounds confusing. Are you having trouble loosening up for fiddle? My teacher has never said anything about a bent wrist or whatever...but we have talked a lot about the unique way you approach the bowing in Irish.

December 19, 2019, 7:33 PM · All of this is excellent advice. After some soul searching, I stopped the Irish fiddle lessons for now. I'll pick them up again once my technique is more stable. I have to remind myself that I'm still fairly new to the violin with only two and a half years of lessons. As an adult student, I think I fall victim to that adult desire to push myself beyond my current abilities. I need to remind myself the cold fact that I'm still a work in progress, and while some bits are in good shape, others need a lot of attention. Learning the Irish fiddle still lies somewhere down the road, but I need to travel the road to get to that point. A big thanks to all of you.
Edited: December 20, 2019, 5:48 AM · In agreement with Erik, it may be that it's the time spent seeking perfect intonation that is ruining the rhythm. Playing in a group forces one to stay in tempo. When I was a teenager I played piano for a ballet school. I had to do a lot of sight-reading. That throws everything but rhythm out of the window pretty quickly. Maybe you could play to a metronome? In disagreement with Erik, intonation on the violin is my number 1 priority. But how you practise matters. Practise for intonation: play for your teacher with rhythm, and hope the practice filters through.
December 20, 2019, 8:38 AM · We play like we practice. If you always practice out of rhythm you will play out of rhythm and you will practice-in your hesitations. You have to focus on getting one thing right, maybe, but that thing should sometimes be rhythm and not intonation. And you should practice slowly enough to be able to get everything right. And if necessary, practice on open strings to have perfect rhythm at tempo. And practice the connection between two difficult note repeatedly until the transition feels smooth.

But this is why it is important for early progression on the violin to set skills firmly before moving on.

Edited: December 20, 2019, 11:14 AM · I started with a folk teacher, then added a classical teacher, and then abandoned the folk teacher as the classical technique more rigorous approach was most fitting my personal style. I must say my folk teacher paid little attention to my bow technique, which wasn't helping. Of everything you said, the "more pronounced bend in the right wrist" recommendation is what I would find most concerning. I can see emphasizing more action from the fingers/wrist, but little good will come out of bending the wrist more IMO and I am working hard in doing the exact opposite, so I would discuss with your folk teacher why if I were you before emphasizing what is perhaps a bad (and difficult to break) habit for both fiddlers and classical players. Perhaps ask your folk teacher to focus on developing the proper rythm, which is the essence of folk music, rather than bow technique; not that fiddlers don't have their own peculiar approach to bow technique, they often do, but the classical approach will not prevent you from plying folk music well, while this isn't always the case the other way around.
December 20, 2019, 11:13 AM · Having two teachers on a regular basis is one too many. If a teacher has a student short-term, like a summer session or workshop/master class, they should Not try to do any major change in posture or mechanics, only suggest a change at the end of the session if something is definitely wrong. Mainstream classical training prepares you to play things like Tchaikovsky symphonies. Early music, Baroque style technique is more compatible with British Isles fiddle styles.
December 20, 2019, 11:21 AM · I cannot imagine switching between those two styles. When I had to transition to a new teacher, I ended up going with my former teacher's recommendation and it's worked out really well. I've considered taking additional lessons, or workshops, etc., but I don't want to deal with the conflicting messages at this time.
December 20, 2019, 12:38 PM · Not bragging, just saying that it is possible. I have been called a chameleon, constantly switching styles and equipment, even bow holds. I just keep them segregated in different parts of my mind. I have 4 violins and two violas, that are set up to do different things.
Edited: December 20, 2019, 5:05 PM · Returning to the question of intonation, in some parts of Ireland (mostly in the West) there may an extra note coming up in a tune that isn't found in any classical scale. Usually, it is the quarter tone between C nat and C# on the A-string, which is often called a "trick" note. When used properly it has an especial effect on the understanding of the tune.

The trick note is not an example of poor intonation but is deliberate, with the implication that the fiddler should have the ear and technique to play it as required. Now imagine a circle of a dozen or so fiddle beginners being taught the trick note, when few if any are yet capable of playing accurately in tune - it just won't work. The trick note is best taught face-to-face on an individual basis.

In the days when research musicologists went out into the field to manually transcribe Irish folk music (recording devices being then unknown) they would be puzzled by the "trick" note, assume it was either a C-nat or C# being played out of tune, and transcribe accordingly, C# likely being the default choice. These erroneous transcriptions ended up in many printed collections, and it is for the experienced fiddler to find and correct them. However, there are some collections, such as the Roche Collection, where trick notes are correctly identified as such and given their own notation.

December 21, 2019, 7:07 AM · Hello!

I think you can have two teachers at the same time, that's how I'm doing it. They are both classical teachers and while they are foucusing on different things, both curricula support my development.
I'm just beginning, about 3 or 4 months in. I'm coming from piano and guitar playing (gotta say I'm not so sure if knowing guitar in particular helped learning violin).
One teacher is focused on Mapping and we are sticking to suzuki 1, C major scales, wohlfahrt op 45 no1, and sevcick op1 no1.
The other teacher is steadily going through almost all the keys besides B Ab Db and Gb. We're learning tunes from suzuki 1 but also some from a "lets have music" book, the first dolflein book, and some other beginner books. His lessons are a little more performance oriented, where he'll discuss expression and phrasing. He'll have me go though a peice each week for three weeks with the last one being the "performance"
It is more work to practice for two lessons a week, but really both teacher's teaching supports the other. Maybe this is just because the basics are not so different at this stage? I know it is possible for two teachers to be real different, but they're teaching the same bow hold, neither are super "do it exactly the way I do it" neither wanted to have me use tapes.

Edited: December 21, 2019, 10:55 AM · Thanks to all above commentors, I appreciate the diverse insights from experienced and skilled violinists! The discussions here give me a community of musicians that I don't have enough of in my workaday small town life!
December 21, 2019, 10:51 AM · Thanks, Michael Kennedy, for another episode in the chronicles of your development. I especially enjoy your posts because I identify with your relatively recent start at a mature age. And I admire your journey because you've gone further and faster than me. I started up almost 5 years ago and have been completely self-taught until finally, a few months ago, I found a teacher very skilled and experienced (already at only 21!!!) in early music, the period I've decided to learn. 4 lessons so far...

On my own I had nobody to stop me from bad habits or going in over my head. So when I first came to her I had been hacking away at Corelli and Handel sonatas, and knew that I'd been pretty stuck for at least a year. She has made me start over, easy baroque pieces, begin learning a baroque bowhold and left hand technique, clap out rhythms, open a book of scales and arpeggios....and I know she's right.

Meanwhile I've had another teacher for a year and a half, on the bass viola da gamba. First lesson there was immediately upon getting the instrument, and I've had about 19 lessons on it. Obviously the hands do very different things on the 2 instruments (and I've taught myself alto and bass cleffs), but I find holding and deploying them so different that I never experience any conflict in my learning. What I love about the simultaneity of these learnings is they overlap at the ear and in rhythm, so I'm always working on timing and phrasing no matter which instrument I'm on.

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