Violin Teacher Dilemma

November 5, 2021, 8:54 AM · Hi everyone,

I'm new to this website and I apologise in advance for the long post.
I've been playing the violin for about 4 years now (with some short interruptions), and recently, due to financial restraints, I decided to look for a new violin teacher.
The violin teacher who I have had for 4 years now (I'll refer to her from now on as Teacher A) is brilliant. She is concert standard, has studied music and importantly is a very good teacher. She always has tips and exercises for how I can improve on my weaknesses. However, she has a monthly payment system whereby you pay for 12months a year. So whenever there are holidays I don't get a lesson but I still pay for the month. Make-up lessons generally don't happen. It seems that this is the common way in Germany where I live. Since the summer I've been working freelance so this payment system is a bit tricky for me now. Hence my search for a new teacher who might be cheaper.
Last month I found a new teacher (Teacher B). He charges only per lesson (each lesson is 5 euros more than Teacher A). The thing is, and this is very difficult for me to say, I don't think much of his playing. His strings are a bit rusty, which could be why I'm not impressed by his tone. Yet he says the strings are not rusty enough to justify getting new ones. He also makes mistakes quite frequently (four or five per lesson). I don't play well and I am currently working on the Seitz concertos, so it's not as if he is making mistakes with advanced music. At the start of my lesson this week when I tuned my violin I noticed the E string was too high so I adjusted it. He told me he wasn't sure if it was too high or flat. Surely this would be obvious to a teacher? He is a lovely man and I don't like to criticise him, but I just need to know the best way to proceed. Should I go back to my Teacher A, even though it's expensive? Teacher B's advice also conflicts with Teacher A's. For example, when needing to place the first finger on both the G and D strings, he told me to put my finger in between these two strings. Teacher A said that doesn't work with small hands like mine.
For someone who has huge stage fright I actually feel quite comfortable playing in front of both of them. Though it should perhaps be added here that Teacher B has never listened to me playing alone.
I'd appreciate any comments or advice about how to proceed. I really want to get better and invest in this. Thank you!

Replies (38)

November 5, 2021, 9:09 AM · Keep looking!!!
November 5, 2021, 9:38 AM · I second Erin's advice. Keep looking.
If teacher A is too expensive for you, no need to dwell on it. If you're not happy with teacher B, whose lessons you can afford, then keep looking for teacher C.
My suggestion: a lot of more advanced conservatoire students (not talking about first years here) offer lessons as well and they're often a little bit cheaper, yet still offering solid teaching for a novice like yourself.
November 5, 2021, 9:49 AM · This one is clear. If you are an intermediate student and you can tell that the teacher is not that refined a player, keep looking! If you really loved teacher A, did you try speaking with him/her about your financial situation? Sometimes if a teacher has a good rapport with you, they will consider a 'sliding scale' payment system if they are sympathetic to your financial situation. As someone who grew up in a family that struggled to make ends meet, this was luckily my case with many kind and loving professors through the years, who were willing to give me a studio 'scholarship' so that I could continue my studies!
Edited: November 5, 2021, 10:23 AM · Please have an honest conversation with Teacher A. Hopefully you haven’t already burned that bridge.

If Teacher A can’t or won’t work with your financial situation, perhaps they can recommend a teacher who would be good for you. Teacher B from your description is a waste of your time and money.

November 5, 2021, 10:43 AM · I agree with Mary Ellen.

I'll also point out that the twelve equal monthly payments is effectively amortizing the costs of lessons over the year so Teacher A receives a predictable income. It likely assumes, on Teacher A's part, that there may be months when there are fewer lessons, that some lessons will be missed and not made up due to illness, etc.

Teacher A's effectively hourly rate SHOULD be higher than Teacher B's, because Teacher A is apparently significantly more qualified and skilled.

You get what you pay for. I wouldn't stay with Teacher B, who sounds like a waste of money. If you really can't afford Teacher A, and you've burned your bridges with Teacher A such that they won't teach you regardless, then you're going to be forced to look for other teachers. You'll likely need to try several in order to find someone who is both cheap enough and meets a minimum bar for competence, but I wouldn't expect to find someone as good as Teacher A for less money, assuming that Teacher A's fees are average for your city and for their skill level.

November 5, 2021, 10:45 AM · Concentrate on value for your money! It sounds like Teacher A is giving good value, and Teacher B isn't bringing any value. Do what Mary Ellen suggests- talk to the teacher, let them know your situation, and see what they suggest. Most teachers will work with you on some basis, or can help you find somebody who's good but that's less expensive for whatever reason. Having a really good teacher is very important to make good progress!! Sounds like you'll go backwards with new teacher.
November 5, 2021, 11:04 AM · There isn't always a firm correlation between price and quality of someone's teaching (I know that there are teachers in my city that charge more than my teacher, but I wouldn't take lessons from anyone else if they gave them for free), but violin teaching is not a place to be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Mary Ellen and Lydia covered it pretty well.

I can't tell if your current teacher is the best you can find in your area, but teacher B is an idiot and should not be teaching.

Edited: November 5, 2021, 11:36 AM · I wouldn't wish to expect too much creativity on wages or contracts with Germans, but perhaps there is a way to re-rig the arrangement?

If you pay 12x whatever the monthly rate is, would the assumption be 52 (or 50) lessons per year? Perhaps, then, you can go at 5 lessons some months, fewer in others.

If your calendar really won't handle that, then pay half this amount and figure out a way to get in 26 lessons per year, while paying her regularly.

November 5, 2021, 11:40 AM · What Mary Ellen said! Have a forthright conversation with Teacher A.
November 5, 2021, 3:07 PM · 1. Dump teacher B
2. Have an honest conversation with teacher A about your financial situation and see if she will reduce her rate.
3. If that doesn’t work, contact several prospective teachers and ask each for an introductory lesson. Most will give one for free. Keep looking until you find one you like and can afford.
Good luck!
November 5, 2021, 3:28 PM · Even Germans are able to negotiate on price, if you provide them with a PRACTICAL reason to do so. :-)
November 5, 2021, 6:25 PM · One thing about the salary system is that it keeps you wanting to go to your lessons and, presumably, to prepare for them.
November 6, 2021, 7:15 AM · Just an experience with looking for a teacher in Germany: I went to music school first, that had that system "pay for every month of the year also through the holidays". Then I went on a longer hiatus and after that phoned some private teachers (not working in a music school). One said I could do lessons once or twice a month with her when I explained that I got too nervous from weekly lessons and needed more time between them. I would then have had to pay only those one or two lessons a month.

I eventually did not take lessons because there was a death in my family and I could not take up the violin for some time.

Recently, I bought a new violin and the luthier also offered to recommend a teacher.

So, that might also be a place to ask.

I would just google violin teachers, contact all of them, ask for their terms of payment and of course take test lessons to see if you get along with their teaching style/ lesson plan (do they have a fixed repertoire you need to learn or can you ask to work on pieces that are important to you or techniques you want to focus on.)

November 6, 2021, 7:15 AM · Just an experience with looking for a teacher in Germany: I went to music school first, that had that system "pay for every month of the year also through the holidays". Then I went on a longer hiatus and after that phoned some private teachers (not working in a music school). One said I could do lessons once or twice a month with her when I explained that I got too nervous from weekly lessons and needed more time between them. I would then have had to pay only those one or two lessons a month.

I eventually did not take lessons because there was a death in my family and I could not take up the violin for some time.

Recently, I bought a new violin and the luthier also offered to recommend a teacher.

So, that might also be a place to ask.

I would just google violin teachers, contact all of them, ask for their terms of payment and of course take test lessons to see if you get along with their teaching style/ lesson plan (do they have a fixed repertoire you need to learn or can you ask to work on pieces that are important to you or techniques you want to focus on.)

November 6, 2021, 11:48 AM · Thank you everyone for all your helpful responses.
I certainly haven't burned my bridges with Teacher A, so I'll have to bite the bullet and be honest about my new financial situation.
Some of you have perceptively observed that flexibility in working matters is not exactly Germany's strength. I doubt exceptions will be made for me by Teacher A. I have obviously done some research on other teachers in the area, but rates go up to 80 euros per hour, and I'm currently paying 30.
I think we have all established that Teacher B has to be dropped. Thanks for your honesty there/
I think I will stay with Teacher A, at least for the foreseeable. I'm just honestly so surprised to have to say that a teacher plays badly; can't get my head around it.
I'll happily keep you updated!
November 6, 2021, 1:27 PM · Try same (or slightly higher) hourly rate, just not the old number of hours. Best of luck!
Edited: November 6, 2021, 3:29 PM · Hi,
here, in Germany, there is a certain amount of holidays, and based on that, there is a factor of 3.2 being applied:
That means if one lesson is worth 50€, then a teacher can either charge 50€ per lesson, or, alternatively, 50€ x 3.2 = 160€, per month, but then throughout the whole year. In the end, the teacher gets the same sum per year, but evenly distributed. As a result, the teacher has a regular income. I don’t know the exact arrangements regarding cancelled lessons, but usually, if the student cancels the lesson he or she doesn’t get money back for that.

To save money, it should be possible to think of reducing the lessons. Instead of one hour, you might book only half an hour, and maybe take a full
hour, every second week.
There are lots of private teachers, though, who accept to be paid, at the end of each lesson, it was just bad luck for you to have come across someone incompetent. If it is true what you describe about teacher B, I find this one an absolute waste of money and time. How can someone like this have the guts to offer violin lessons, in the first place?
You can either try out a music school, or ask musicians of a nearby orchestra, if there is one. There are always some who teach. And they are most often not very expensive and certainly way better qualified than teacher B.

November 7, 2021, 1:12 AM · >However, she has a monthly payment system whereby you pay for 12months a year. So whenever there are holidays I don't get a lesson but I still pay for the month.

I'm in the US, and localities will differ, but I'm sure there are good teachers willing to work with you less rigidly than this. Personally, I charge by the month, but always allow for a partial monthly fee, assuming I am given advanced notice of any particular lesson the student cannot attend. I am less sympathetic to "no-show" type situations, though I happily use the time to practice, walk, or eat all the same.

Teacher B sounds lacking in experience needed to sufficiently help you.

In my experience (two degree programs in violin performance plus about 10 years of private study before/after my school years, including current study with Daniel Kurganov in Boston), and this may be controversial, but unless you are enrolled in a degree program at a fine school with a fine teacher, the best teachers you will find are performers who work you into their schedules as they are able. This means weekly lessons are not guaranteed. I've personally always felt that weekly lessons are a bit too frequent anyway, but maybe others can simply process their lessons more quickly than I can! Depending on their teaching experience, you will pay more than Teacher A's rate per lesson, but you will still pay less over time because they might only be available once every 2-3 weeks.

November 10, 2021, 5:43 AM · Just thought I'd keep you updated: I had a frank chat with Teacher A and as expected, nothing can be modified to fit my personal situation. She suggested having weekly lessons of 30 mins instead of an hour if money gets tight. So I'll see. I'm a bit fed up really so maybe next year I'll search again. Thanks all!
November 10, 2021, 7:51 AM · I am a student in a "private music school" in the US. The school has one or two scholarships for students who cannot afford the full price, but those awards are financed by grants and donations; the wages of the teachers are unchanged. If your "Teacher A" has a waiting list of people who can pay the full fee, then accepting you as a student for a lower fee comes right out of the teacher's wallet. With what violin teachers in the US are paid, I could well imagine there are some (perhaps many) who would also decline to accommodate you in this way.
November 10, 2021, 9:31 AM · You get what you pay for. So if you want to pay less and get worse instruction, sure, go for it.
Edited: November 10, 2021, 10:36 AM · I'm not sure why my teacher would give me worse instruction if I stay for only 30 mins rather than 60 mins. What will ultimately dictate whether or not I go down to 30 mins is my work as a freelance language teacher, where finances can vary from month to month. If I have a bad period of several months hourly lessons might not be affordable. Especially if they coincide with holidays where there's no lessons but I continue to pay. So we'll see. At least Teacher B is now out of the picture.
November 10, 2021, 10:43 AM · Scott - that is a bit harsh don't you think? Its a bit like telling someone that has no money to eat better or suffer the consequences.

IMO he might do best by seeking another teacher with similar strengths that is less rigid about their teaching program. As mentioned above, if you approach an active performer they are often flexible with their demands (for example, individually-scheduled lessons) because they too require that flexibility and can not guarantee to be available on a weekly basis. The other plus is that you often get top-quality teaching (this is something I am very experienced with).

November 10, 2021, 12:08 PM · I think Scott meant "pay [a lesser teacher] and get worse instruction" not that half time with a better teacher is worse instruction. Less instruction, sure, because of less time, but not worse for the duration.

My guess on Teacher A's perspective: she wants to limit variation of monthly finances and therefore desires a stable schedule of weekly students. If she gave you an hour every other week, then who takes the hour on the other every other week? It's a bad deal for her to let you to occupy the spot for half price. In your own teaching field, is it possible to book clients on a term basis so that you have a better view of the next 2-3 months? Maybe violin instruction in your area is commonly accepted as term-based while language is session-based, I don't know. Or put away a bit from the "good periods" to cover slow periods?

Personally, I do a term-based fee and present it as paying for a spot, not for hours of time, which works out well with how I want to teach children (even children past Seitz) although I realize a more advanced adult's needs may be different. I just had a young student withdraw two months in ("terms" have been short because of the pandemic), which is slightly irritating because people who were ready to start, started in Sept, or looked elsewhere, and people don't look to start at year-end/holiday time, so this spot will likely sit empty until Jan or Feb. However, I accommodate ONE adult student on a flexible twice per month arrangement, usually the last time of a day, because the family has been with me many years via the child student. I wouldn't be keen on extending my day like that regularly but for this case, it's fine. Maybe Teacher A just doesn't want to deal with something like that at all.

November 10, 2021, 5:54 PM · What I'm wondering is this:

Are you actually unable to afford teacher A, or are you just upset that they charge you monthly? If it's truly a matter of affording them, then cutting down to 30 minute lessons makes the most sense, as it's far better to have 30 minutes of good instruction than 60 minutes of trash instruction.

Another question: are 5th lesson days (for example, when there are 5 mondays in a month) included? If so, have you considered that the missed holiday-lessons are made up for by these 5th lessons that might occur in a given month?

Last point: as others have already stated, using a subscription-type model is something that is quite standard, because music teachers want a stable income and stable students. Generally, I have found that students who only want to pay per-lesson are also the worst students. Thus, by sticking to my subscription model, I not only have a more stable income structure, but I end out filtering out the bad students.

However, I do offer individual lessons as an option; it just costs significantly more per session.

November 11, 2021, 1:31 AM · Hi Erik,

I can currently afford Teacher A, but as I've previously mentioned, I may not be able to in the future, so the point of all this is just to plan ahead for that eventuality and test my options - and also see what it's like in other countries.

I'm a stable student and have never cancelled a lesson in 4 years. I know all too well how frustrating and even disrespectful it can be to do that, especially at short notice. (I get my own lessons cancelled from both private students and companies). So a subscription-type model makes sense and I'm currently learning that it's much more common for music teachers than I realised, so that's fine. What upset me was rather the lack of flexibility (my teacher knows me, she knows I'm reliable and dedicated) and that by having 30 minute lessons I'd be going backwards rather than forwards, if you know what I mean!

Regarding the 5th day point; yes, that tended to happen occasionally before corona. I think corona has just messed everything up to be honest, so I'm willing to overlook the last year and a half.

Maybe I'm also frustrated because I am the kind of person who does make exceptions for people - but that I'm learning is a real double-edged sword.

Edited: November 11, 2021, 9:30 AM · Yes Abigail, it's normal for a subscription type payment. Also, as much as the teacher may like you as a student, she may be having to be firm to protect herself and her schedule, especially if she is a quality teacher in high demand. I have 30 really good students that I appreciate, but many of them have wanted to be the one that I make the exception for. I just can't do it with my schedule right now. Maybe one, but not 20, and how do I decide who is the one I bend the rules for? Especially if it's a "prime time" spot, I have students waiting to get into those. It's not personal, it's business.
November 11, 2021, 8:57 AM · Hi Abigail, I think you should respect Teacher A’s decision. She has agreed to meet you in the middle with 30-minute lessons (not all teachers will do that). Now you want her to give you a significant discount on her time slot (of which she has a finite number to allot to students) on the basis of your solid years with her. That’s like asking for a loyalty discount. As far as I know, most qualified violin teachers don’t decrease their rates the longer they have a student. They are more likely to increase rates to keep up with inflation (which is high right now), or they extend lesson times as a student becomes more advanced and needs more lesson time.

As Rebecca says, making an exception for you sets a difficult precedent. If Teacher A's other students have been just as reliable, they could push to negotiate down their rates, too. When that happens with enough students, she will be facing a 50% or greater cut to her entire income or risk the flight of other students who don’t like how they don’t get preferential treatment.

Have you considered looking online for a teacher who is willing to teach on a per-lesson basis? You could look for a teacher located in a country where the exchange rate is more in your favor.

November 11, 2021, 12:22 PM · Would it make sense to do an hour every other week? If she's already cutting the time in half and intruding on her hourly schedule, why not bunch the time together and give her an alternate week off-- or time to see another half-time student?
November 11, 2021, 1:16 PM · I've had stable, dedicated, long-time students (even more than 4 years) who, long story short, still managed to leave in "undignified" ways. I know it's unfair to apply anecdote conclusions across people in general, but business matters are certainly on the mind no matter how good the perception of the personal relationship.

At this point, I have "non-standard schedule arrangements" for my two longest families and two who moved slightly away (partial online schedule). I had also done it before for one student whose parent was terminally ill. I make other exceptions occasionally if the result makes my life better compared to sticking with "the usual way" but definitely not just whenever and whatever students ask. The commonality is that these are not situations that would apply to students in general, and the flexibility is still on my terms.

November 11, 2021, 2:11 PM · She won't do an hour every other week; I have already asked.
I don't want preferential treatment, just to pay for lessons that I receive. Thanks again for all your insights. I can certainly apply this system to my own language teaching arrangements in the future. Then with any luck I can keep my hour-long violin lessons. Problem solved! :-)
November 11, 2021, 3:22 PM · There is a difference between a teacher for whom their lesson income is their main employment, and a teacher for whom the lesson income is an extra on top of performance income.

I am in the latter category, well, normally I am although not now, and I have been extremely flexible with many students. But if my lesson income remains my main income as it actually is right now, I am going to have to change my policies. This will be very difficult for long time students who are used to my flexibility but it may very well become necessary.

It’s business.

Edited: November 11, 2021, 3:34 PM · QUOTE: Abigail Dunn: "November 10, 2021, 5:43 AM · Just thought I'd keep you updated: I had a frank chat with Teacher A and as expected, nothing can be modified to fit my personal situation. She suggested having weekly lessons of 30 mins instead of an hour if money gets tight. So I'll see. I'm a bit fed up really so maybe next year I'll search again. Thanks all!"

If she'll go for weekly lessons of 30 minutes versus 60 minutes, would she go for bi-weekly lessons of an hour for half the monthly fee? A one-hour lesson easily gives me enough "material" to work on for two weeks. For me, weekly lessons of one hour would not be an efficient use of lesson (versus practice) time. I'm currently on a bi-weekly, one-hour lesson schedule, and I find that to be about optimum.

November 11, 2021, 4:42 PM · [Neil, I think we already heard that the bi-weekly is not a possibility.]
November 11, 2021, 8:35 PM · Abigail - others have already said this, I'm just going to come at the same point a different way: don't focus on "paying for the lessons I receive". The teacher has framed things in terms of cost per lesson because that is normal or easier or whatever, but the reality is your actual per lesson cost is the yearly cost divided by the number of lessons. Sounds like this teacher is worth whatever that comes out to for you.

So instead of thinking about whether it is fair, just focus on the value for you, and consider whether you might be willing to give up something for the sake of keeping that in the future, i.e. some of your spare time, which might be given over to making the extra money.

November 12, 2021, 3:14 AM · Abigail, I think you'll find that really good teachers stick to their guns on their policies. This is largely because they're highly in demand, so by giving you slots that they now can't give to others, it would mean one less other student whom they could be benefitting. It's not just about their stable income, it's also about the fact that inconsistent lessons for one student means other students will indirectly suffer.

While there are exceptions (such as Mary) who are flexible despite being good, I think you'll find this is quite rare, and their hourly rate may also include this added convenience for the student. Obviously, a teacher who charges 90/hour can afford to be more flexible than one charging 60/hour. So it may be helpful for you to think of the subscription model as "buying in bulk."

And I certainly wouldn't be surprised that a teacher charging only 30 euros per hour could play badly! That's a very low rate.

It seems that your main point of soreness is that the teacher cancels your lessons on holidays, but despite that, they don't seem willing to accommodate your cancellations. Admittedly, I refund students when I'm the one that cancels. But I have very seriously considered charging for holidays, too, since students are getting 5th lesson days for free. There's always a way to validate anything, and it really just comes down to whether or not you're willing to pay for a good teacher.

Let me ask you this: do you pay differently for internet if you use it less in a month? Probably not. Same thing with cellphone bills. Even utilities often have a "minimum charge" even when you haven't used gas/electricity for a month. Same thing with car insurance.

Why are some so willing to look the other way when it comes to lining the pockets of huge corporations, but when small businesses or beloved teachers want the same stability, they scoff at it?

Edited: November 12, 2021, 10:41 AM · My teacher calculates how many lessons in total she plans to provide to me during a 9 month period, and then takes the total price for those lessons and divides it by 9 to arrive at the per-month charge. So I pay the same charge each month whether there are 3 or 5 lessons scheduled in a given month.

She also schedules in advance occasional "make-up" days for students who may have missed a lesson.

Everybody seems happy with this arrangement.

Edited: November 12, 2021, 11:45 AM · While I don't have a violin teacher now, I do have an excellent hammered dulcimer teacher who is in great demand for many good reasons. My lessons are remote as he is in another state, but he has invested to create a properly appointed studio for effective online teaching (and recording). No monthly fee, but he does offer 3 different session lengths and I pre-pay four 1-hour lessons in advance as that suits me/my budget. He is more expensive than my violin teacher was but he is well worth it. He also is an active performer so if his non-teaching schedule requires reschedule of a lesson, or a shortening thereof, then we either reschedule or he gives me credit.

It works well, and on a side note, I would have never dreamed just how effective Zoom lessons can be when the teacher has invested in the right setup.

Explore your options and I hope you're able to work it out that you have the kind of teaching you need that will also fit in your budget. Don't be afraid of remote lessons - I used to hate them. No longer!


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