teaches and teachers

June 25, 2021, 12:18 PM · For some reason quite unknown to me I have started taking golf lessons. I am struck by how similar many aspects of golf tuition are to those I have endured
over the past 30 years of violin lessons. My Golf teacher is absolutely insistent on
me observing a number of rigid principles, in his words to install " an absolute consistency". I am making a great deal of progress.

Now what about violin teachers?? I have had many, perhaps 9 or 10 in the past. Just like golf there are a number of technical aspects of playing that apply to all styles, and periods. Now I have no doubt that these teachers, agreeable and pleasant as they all were meant well. But why did they fail to establish the absolute consistency that my golf coach requires? They all differed by missing some absolutely important part of technique or not following up on it ad nauseam..

I was a late starter having hitherto played the flute, so I needed the "goods"
so why did they not insist for example on keeping fingers down as much as possible, or keeping the bow down as much as possible at all times....arguably two of the most fundamental issues in violin or string playing. Why wasn't I shown that from the beginning and had it beaten into me. Instead I find that it took me at least 15 years to put everything together they way it should.

Is this the result of mediocre violin teaching talent, or just me as a hopeless student? Good violin playing has always meant the world to me. Maybe be the competent orchestral and soloist players were fortunate enough to have the best of teaching as a sine qua non of their success, and over a realistic period of time.

Many of my previous teachers were pre-occupied with the musicality of the piece
rather than the technical means of achieving it. A bit like art school teaching
"creativity" without teaching draughtsmanship at all.

Is learning the violin outside of a formal college environment just too much of
a risk?

The best tip I ever had was to watch The Sassmanhaus videos on the internet, I would reccomend any starter violinist watching those vids time after time. I reckon that man could teach me golf as well!

Replies (19)

Edited: June 25, 2021, 1:27 PM · I'm a little perplexed.
We keep our fingers and bow "down" some of the time: during notes but not always in between.

Unused fingers should hover over their notes, but holding them down at all times will hamper our playing.

Did you observe closely how your teachers obtained the expression he/she wanted?

June 25, 2021, 2:20 PM · I've had teachers ranging from abysmal to great. I think the main factor is confidence; my worst teacher ever was a student herself and for some reason felt it would be impolite to correct me. My favourite teacher of all time had no qualms about nagging me for details! She was also untrained, but had years of experience both as a music teacher and a school teacher. She was tough as nails.
June 25, 2021, 2:34 PM · Indeed, there are many bad violin teachers. Perhaps you lucked-out with a really good golf teacher, and perhaps your golf teacher would be a bad teacher for a different kind of student.

One thing you want to be aware of when teacher shopping is whether the teacher can play. Another thing is whether they turn out good students. A third factor is whether you mesh well and they are accepting students. It's a crap shoot, because the really good teachers are usually in demand. Also, a lot of teachers have more students who are children, and their teaching style may be great for children but not ideal for adults, whereas most golf teachers are teaching adults as their primary client base.

Finally, golf is easier than violin.

I also am not quite sure what you mean by keeping your bow down as much as possible. The amount that you keep your fingers down is quite contextual. A violin teacher has to balance meeting the student where they are and imparting the seeds of technique for stuff way down the road. Some teachers put all kinds of baby steps and bunny rabbit holds and stuff in, considering them a bridge to the final thing, and other teachers insist on the final thing from the start, with the tradeoff being that it can a steeper learning curve.

It sounds like you may have had a string of subpar teachers, or just teachers that weren't best for you, but for the motivated student, it's really really important to shop around for teachers and get a lot of information, because universities just pump out people that really have no business teaching. A lot of unknown unknowns, as Donald Rumsfeld put it.

June 25, 2021, 3:08 PM · Technique is what you need a teacher to teach you. If the teacher hasn't been drilled in technique, they won't be any good for you.
Edited: June 25, 2021, 3:43 PM · Christian, my best teacher also insisted that I keep the bow on the strings at all times, unless a lift is needed. I suppose some shy children (like I was, and some other players I've met) sort of developed the habit of bowing lightly and lifting the bow off the string prematurely, which results in a really wishy washy sound and poor martele. Keeping the bow down remedies that, and also cuts off any unwanted ring.
June 25, 2021, 4:09 PM · I can't answer your questions on why for the 9-10 teachers you've had, because it could be a number of reasons.

Could it be that maybe in the beginning you picked up on things quickly that the teachers didn't feel the need to drill it in to you, but you lost it later? That has happened with my students on many occasions.

I've also gotten multiple transfer students from other teachers that have poor technique. Most the time though, when I start to correct them they know exactly what I am talking about and say "my old teacher was always telling me that."

Edited: June 26, 2021, 10:33 AM · While you may consider it vital to have a good teacher, think about: What are the qualities of a good student? Focus, keen apprehension of significant detail, goal-oriented practice. Even with the best teacher, some students will go on to far exceed the teacher's playing ability, and become violin stars, e.g Heifetz, Perlman. How does THAT happen? A question to ponder. What is actually the most important factor in successful learning--the teacher or the student?
June 26, 2021, 8:42 AM · Grateful for replies received. I would light to reset the discussion very slightly. I agree with the contributor
who stated that the teacher has to be show to play well. But that doesn't make them a good teacher in any way at all. I am thinking of those late starters at the violin like myself. There is a huge amount of time
to catch up, so teachers need to be hip to that. I have gotten a very strong impression that much of violin
technique has be known to the violin teacher for so long that they simply fail to communicate the basics well enough to the adult late starter. I chose the issue of "keeping the fingers down" as just one aspect of violin playing that none of my teachers paid specific reference to. When you come from another instrument like the piano or a woodwind instrument your fingers are hopping up and down all the time,
whereas in violin playing the left hand is more like rock climbing, feet safe, then extend the arms, make sure the hold is safe, then move the feet, a bit like a cautious crab! My teachers were all very remiss at pointing that out and explaining, and enforcing it!! Cheers!
Edited: June 27, 2021, 8:42 PM · No, no rock climbing on the fingerboard. APPLY ONLY THE MINIMUM NECESSARY PRESSURE to sound the note clearly. Unlike rock climbing, travelling the violin fingerboard requires relaxed speed and agility. (P.S.: Mountainscapes do not go into motor memory. Fingerboard landmarks eventually do.) Have you looked at Nathan Cole videos? on hand frame?
Edited: June 27, 2021, 8:06 PM · "I have gotten a very strong impression that much of violin technique has be known to the violin teacher for so long that they simply fail to communicate the basics well enough to the adult late starter."

Well that's one possibility. But why should it apply only to that teacher's adult beginners? Shouldn't the same teacher fail just as badly to explain details of technique to young children?

Another possibility is that the teacher may be assuming that, as an adult, you are not interested in learning to play the violin truly properly; that you are not willing to spend the time working at a glacial pace through method books, studies, and scales to really get things right.

Playing the violin is an enormously physically complicated process. Your teacher can only explain things in so much detail. They cannot tell you exactly how the strings should feel underneath your fingers because that is a matter of your own individual sensory perception. I use this example because of Erin's comment about finger pressure. What your teacher should be doing is providing you with some starting points (bow hold, basic starting hand positions and posture, etc.) and helping you establish a logical platform for conducting your own systematic experiments to illuminate the details, because many of them will be very individual to you at the finest level of detail. This is the pedagogical approach that we associate today with Simon Fischer. If you read his book "The Violin Lesson" you will see what I mean within the first several pages.

I remember a YouTube where a young (twelve years old?) Joshua Bell is getting a lesson from some legendary teacher and he is playing a study by Jakob Dont. The teacher explains that if one is bowing the violin the motion should be elegant, so if you find yourself doing something that's not elegant, it's wrong. There are two responses: (1) "This pompous ass is not teaching me. He's pontificating." and (2) "Wow, that's advice I can apply to everything I do with my bow, even if only gradually." I tried to find that video but failed.

June 27, 2021, 8:52 PM · The video referenced above is Joshua Bell's masterclass with Galamian. The comment about bow stroke comes early, around 1:20.


June 27, 2021, 10:17 PM · For many years, I have been an avid violinist and golfer.

What you say resonates on some levels. But knowing both disciplines, I'd have to say that because golf doesn't have the additional, very complex aspect of musicianship / musicality, they are worlds apart. But I agree the technical aspects are very comparable, and have often thought so. I've known quite a few good violinist-golfers (is this a version of warrior-poets?), as I think the technical aspect appeals.

Also, golf shots happen in an instant, whereas violin playing is a concerted, enduring activity that will show up many, many technical deficiencies without mercy - especially classical. (E.g. if you 'duff' a wedge into the green, the moment has passed and you can try again straight away. If your bow shakes during legato, it quickly becomes frustrating)

Many violin teachers are trying to balance technical concerns with the fun of playing in a musical way, so may overlook technical corrections in preference to risking putting students completely off.

That's where you have to be clear on what you want to focus on, and if that teacher can't give that to you, find a teacher who can.

June 28, 2021, 6:50 AM · That Joshua Bell video is really interesting, for the simple reason that Bell is really not a fantastic unbelievable prodigy in that video. He sounds like any serious 12-year old violin pupil but nothing more!! Totally unlike the prodigies you find on YouTube these days. Yet he grew in less than 6 years into an absolute top artist. That is the more amazing.
June 28, 2021, 8:26 AM · If you had the opportunity to view the entire series of Galamian's teaching (him sitting in a chair smoking, etc.) you would have seen that young Bell was the only one showing any promise at all.
June 28, 2021, 10:35 AM · I came to the violin as an adult, though I was classically trained on piano. My first teacher also did not focus very much on those fundamentals; just a very occasional and ad hoc type of reminder. I later found out that she considered any student who wasn't entering competitions to be just a hobbyist and not worth her best teaching (though she did tell me clearly that she taught adult students).

I'm not sure how prevalent that attitude is but it certainly exists. Fortunately I found an excellent teacher who applied the same rigor to my lessons as he did with his university performance students and my progress went up rapidly (after a fair amount of UN-learning).

For anyone just starting, keep a critical eye on what your teacher is doing; are they accepting adequacy, or continually reinforcing good habits, good bow hold, good articulation, intonation, finger patterns, etc? Every student should get the teacher's best and have right to expect that.

June 28, 2021, 11:11 AM · @Richard Jackson, I agree wholeheartedly, but I also surmise that many teachers have had countless adult students who didn't respond well to detailed technical advice and just wanted to learn Amazing Grace as soon as humanly possible. And with an adult student, there's no parent the teacher can turn to and say, "Your kid needs to slow down and focus on his sound point."
June 28, 2021, 1:13 PM · I thought the video of Joshua Bell’s 12-year-old lesson was with Gingold, not Galamian.
June 28, 2021, 1:24 PM · The Gingold video was 1982, Tchaikovsky 3rd movement.

Those videos are indeed a source of inspiration to my daughter who’s not a perfect player at age 10.

Edited: June 28, 2021, 1:33 PM · I thought so, too, Mary Ellen, but that sure looks like Galamian in the video that Sue linked, and that's the one I was thinking of.

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