What do teachers feel?

July 26, 2020, 3:50 PM · When a student butchers a work in a lesson?

Replies (26)

July 26, 2020, 5:29 PM · I like to point out one or two things the student did very well, then I pick the thing that is most obviously in need of improvement. I think that's a common misconception of students- I am never angry or upset with a student who hasn't practiced.
July 26, 2020, 5:34 PM · Ditto Julie.

The only time I remember ever feeling anger, which I did not express, was when an interfering mother would insist that her son play things much too fast much too soon, destroying all my careful work on how to practice. That student did not last long.

July 26, 2020, 6:24 PM · If I can not find anything redeemable in what a student has played me, it would be a huge error on my part. If they did not practice consistently and they played poorly, that is a different story. At that point it is best to talk and possibly set different goals to meet their relative level of effort put in.
July 26, 2020, 11:40 PM · I wonder about that too.

I think my viola lessons are rather expensive. On the other hand, I felt that can't pay my teacher enough to listen to my playing (which is weirdly out-of-tune and awkward in every sense).

Would it be harmful to your musical ears to listen to your beginning students' "music" day-in day-out?

July 27, 2020, 5:07 AM · It's not harmful to my ears to listen to beginning students' music (no need for quotes -- by definition beginners' music is still music). When a student butchers a piece I've asked them to practice I have to quickly make a judgement call about why it sounded the way it did: 1) did the student actually practice it or are they thinking I won't notice; 2) if I think the student actually practiced it, did they play it so poorly because they didn't actually pay attention when I thought they were; 3) did I explain things poorly; 4) did I expect too much. It's not always easy to find the right reason instantly, but eventually we get to the reason and then I work from there.

I know I was a horrible student in my early days. My family was not musical (they loved it but the only instrument either parent had learned was my mom learning piano as a young girl and she hated it and had a horrible teacher who would rap her knuckles with a ruler) so they had no clue how much they should make me practice. But then eventually a light-bulb came on and music became the most important thing in my life. As I sit through lessons where a student is not doing very well I realize that I shouldn't judge that student's eventual success or lack thereof. I should be as encouraging as I can be and possibly as happened to me, that student will at some point become inspired and turn into a good musician. And in such lessons (out of sight of the student) I will turn my eyes heavenward and say "This lesson is for you, Mr. Marcuse. Thank you." Walter Marcuse was my very patient early music teacher who saw something in me that I couldn't see and never gave up on my. I pay that forward as much as I can.

@Catherine -- when you pay for your viola lessons, you're not just paying for that hour or half-hour. You're paying for a lifetime of musical practice and experience which enables your teacher to be patient with you and be able to help you learn to play the instrument and become a better musician. If you think your music lessons are expensive, try hiring a lawyer or a plumber. Or a doctor. And the cost of our lessons also takes into account that we provide our own health insurance, our own retirement investments, we pay the full 15% social security and medicare tax instead of the normal 7.5% which is deducted from an employee's paycheck, we're not eligible for unemployment benefits when our student load drops below a sustainable level. Teaching music lessons, while enjoyable for most of us, is still a business and we have to run it like a business and we have to take into account all the things that any business takes into account when deciding what to charge for a product. And you'll find that once you take all that into account, most of us teachers are vastly undervaluing our product in an effort to attract and keep customers.

Edited: July 27, 2020, 5:55 AM · I'll ask my teacher, lol!

But seriously, I deliberately butcher work. The point is, I've belonged to guitar forums where people imagine you begin a piece and then play it for years if need be until it's "perfect". Whereas I, in order to avoid such diminishing returns, deliberately begin a new piece that's too hard for me every couple of months. My teacher allows me and usually admits that what I've chosen is not too hard to be worth attempting. So she never gets to hear anything played well, but rather there are always suggestions of technical improvements I can make.

I suppose I could concurrently play two pieces of music, one too difficult and one too easy, in order to maximise my musical expressivity, and I dare say, if I were to play sublimely, there'd still be room for technical criticism. I could do a Suzuki-type recap and go back to those ABRSM grade 2 books and work my way forward from them again. Otoh, sometimes there's only enough time in an hour to discuss one piece, not two.

Perhaps I should discuss it with her and make sure she's happy and that I'm not too dictatorial.

July 27, 2020, 10:00 AM · What do you mean with "butchers"? Is that good or bad?
July 27, 2020, 10:34 AM · "butchers" in the context of a performance is never good. LOL

The thing is, I don't listen to my students with the same mindset with which I listen to my colleagues, or to candidates in an audition. Different contexts and different expectations entirely. And it also makes a difference whether the student is just beginning a new piece or has been working on it for quite awhile with a performance in the near future.

If the student is truly "butchering" anything, then that's my fault for choosing an inappropriate piece for the student.

Edited: July 27, 2020, 3:45 PM · When a student "Butchers" a lesson, I wonder why the student is taking my lessons.

When I taught Supply Chain Management I had more than my share of students who simply did not want to be there. Their boss' sent them and they were, too busy, smart, occupied, distracted, angry,... to fully participate. I did not have control of who was in my classes.

After retirement I became an accidental Violin teacher and now focus on young musicians who want to play the instrument. I don't take young people because their parents think it will be "good for them." To those I only offer parent & child lessons on the basis of, if it is good for your child it must also be good for you. (Strange, no takers so far and all my lessons are free.)

I have had a few students who lose interest and it becomes obvious because they not only don't practice, their presence and attention is lackluster at best. They come to lessons unprepared and often sullen. I try alternate music - music that they like and if that doesn't work and they persist, we have a talk about my dictum: There is only one reason in the universe to play the violin - because YOU want to. If you don't want to, that is OK. Move on, do something you like and if you change your mind you can come back and we'll start over.

To me, the violin is a life-skill, something that you can (theoretically*) do for the rest of your life. I'm laying the foundations for some young musicians and that gives me joy.

* Personally, I'm being challenged by a family history and personal experience of osteoarthritis which continues to limit my playing the violin - the higher positions (anything above fourth) are gone because they cause too much pain.

July 27, 2020, 5:24 PM · When the student butchers the music, the teacher must butcher the student.
July 27, 2020, 5:47 PM · The Sweeney Todd School of violin playing?
July 27, 2020, 7:22 PM · We're not going to get to a future of sustainably raised protein by sitting on our hands, not butchering intransigent students!
July 28, 2020, 12:16 AM · @mary ellen goree

Swing your bow arm wide, sweeney
Scroll points to the sky
Freely flows the squeaks and cracks with countless tries

His tone was thin and filled the air,
His intonation everywhere,
A collapsed wrist and a bowhold tense,
No rhythm, no meter, and no recompense
For ambition he deserved a nod,
Did sweeney todd,
The tone deaf student of fleet street

July 28, 2020, 1:05 AM · I would've been butchered the moment I came into this world.
July 28, 2020, 8:11 AM · Well now we have moved from Sweeney Todd over to Jonathan Swift’s modest proposal.
July 28, 2020, 6:12 PM · The thing about a student who has made a lot of mistakes in what they've played is that assuming they know the mistakes they've made is a false assumption. Sometimes they have no idea that they missed several accidentals, or that several bars had five beats instead of four, etc. And I mean no idea whatsoever.
July 28, 2020, 8:05 PM · Who is Todd Sweeney?
July 28, 2020, 8:05 PM · Who is Todd Sweeney?
July 28, 2020, 8:10 PM · LOL. Meat pies.


July 29, 2020, 8:39 AM · Seriously, my heart warms when I see the human kindness that lives in violin teachers. I was an organic chemist during my working life. When an experiment failed, especially one that had to be reproduced from someone else's work, I often felt frustrated and sometimes even angry (e.g. it failed because the original procedure featured an incorrect temperature).

I guess it is good for everyone that I did not choose to become a violin teacher...

July 29, 2020, 9:36 AM · Everyone,

Since Christian has diverted the discussion I will point out that my definition of a "Butchered" lesson is one where the student has not prepared, practiced or bothered with the assignment. Moreover, the student clearly (pardon my shouting) DOESN'T CARE!!

Mistakes are part of the process of learning, hitting walls is normal, and they need to be addressed with empathy and skill.

I've had people explain all of the reasons why parents push their children into violin and other activities. The reality is that some of those young people simply hate violin lessons and the violin.

Things are different today. My family had three demands of me: that they never get a letter from the school, Chores and Paid Work. Things like music lessons were not in their plans.

July 29, 2020, 7:04 PM · I did have this one student, about 10 years old. Most likely coded, but undiagnosed, and the same with her uncle who always picked her up. They were never quite "fully present". She was enthusiastic in the lessons, but once they were done for the day it would be a gamble of where we would be he next week. She would butcher pieces that we had polished up during the class, other weeks it would be okay but not great.

It simply took 5 months of several phone calls, e-mails, written notes, and in person reminders to get them to buy a simple binder. (The studio I taught at with this student was next to an office supply store) And don't get me started on picking up a shoulder rest!

I watched this child try to place her violin case on a very visibly slanted surface for 3 minutes puzzled as to why it would not stay. There was a table right next to this surface. Every week something like this...

So what frustrates me as a teacher is seeing students who need help at home, but get next to no support. This child would probably see some success if there was not such a stigma to people who have learning difficulties. No routine at home, no communication.

July 30, 2020, 9:54 AM · I think most teachers (including myself) are pretty understanding when a student "butchers" a piece in a lesson, and will usually be able to figure out quickly why it happened. It's when the student consistently doesn't practice what they are capable of doing that I cringe when they come to lesson, because I wonder at that point if there's hope. It is very rare that I dread any student coming to the studio though, I usually look forward to each of them.
July 30, 2020, 2:10 PM · Allan said: "So what frustrates me as a teacher is seeing students who need help at home, but get next to no support. This child would probably see some success if there was not such a stigma to people who have learning difficulties. No routine at home, no communication."

I feel you. The issue, I've found, is that kids with learning disabilities often have parents with some degree of the same ailment. And this sort of applies to any issue that kids have, even if it's not a formal disability. For example, if a parent is exceptionally rude and impatient, usually their kid will be, too. So it's not as if you can tell the parent to change their child's behavior, when they themselves cannot regulate or even notice their own behavior.

As a general rule, I try to preserve my own sanity by only telling a student/parents something 10 times. If I have to say it more than 10 times, it's just not going to happen, regardless of how creative I get about phrasing it differently or offering varying solutions. So I just leave it alone, and accept that at some point that student will give up and leave. If a parent/child unit cannot follow the simplest of instructions despite being offered a variety of ways to do so, then they are not going to succeed on the violin. That is a fact.

July 30, 2020, 2:48 PM · Any difference when it's an adult student butchering the piece, versus an adorably cute, young one? As I kid, I was happy to arrogantly butcher anything. Now, when I notice myself butchering a piece, I feel ashamed. :(

I supposed the meat of adults is less tender than that of children, so maybe you don't want to butcher the adults? Throw them to the dogs instead?

August 2, 2020, 4:25 AM · Children are gross I wouldn’t want any... oh wait, I am a child.

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