Potential Violin Student

November 9, 2017, 2:11 PM · Hi all,
I recently got an offer from a friend to teach an adolescent violin student. She took lessons, passed an exam, and because her teacher moved away, she hasn't played since the exam. I admitted to the friend that because I am not a professional musician, I would only accept students who can't afford lessons, don't live near a teacher, are studying in a group program, etc. I feel that I shouldn't have said this. She does have the option of finding another teacher, as they're plentiful in the area. However, I do understand that finding a new teacher that's a good fit can be a challenge, even if there's a bunch of teachers available. The friend hasn't told me anything about this after receiving this message. I am trying to get at why she has not bothered to find a new teacher. Unfortunately, I have no idea if I have hurt this friend or not, as I can only reach her by email. Simply put, I am very shocked by the situation. How can I tell my friend that I would love to teach her granddaughter but at the same time know why she has not bothered to find another teacher. Thanks for any advice.

Replies (17)

Edited: November 9, 2017, 2:24 PM · What you said sounds quite reasonable to me. There are lots of people who don't understand why an amateur shouldn't be giving lessons, though, so your friend might have been surprised. Some people think that if you are three method books ahead of your student that's enough. Really, they do.

Calm down. All relationships suffer setbacks. Perhaps you could invite her for coffee "to clear the air and talk more about her request." That would give you the chance to explain yourself in a friendly setting. Beforehand if you want to be helpful you could research some of the teachers in the area with an eye toward guiding your friend's granddaughter toward expert tutelage. Get an idea of availability, requirements, fees, etc.

Edited: November 9, 2017, 2:43 PM · Paul, et al.,

I'm one of those amateurs who "shouldn't", but do, teach basics to young aspiring musicians that fit Ella's criteria of coming from families where paid lessons are not possible.

I live in a town with a fairly large population of families struggling to make ends meet. The public schools have attempted to teach strings but don't have a teacher who actually plays strings. The teachers are mostly piano and wind instrument musicians. The last teacher they assigned managed to kill the program by getting all the string students to quit and play band instruments instead or give up completely.

There are some qualified professional string teachers in the area and some of them are willing to provide free lessons with the caveat that the young musician can demonstrate basic skills and willingness to practice and follow instruction. I'm the local gap-filler. I teach both basics and how to study music (actually study anything - this is a transferable skill).

I've been doing this for a while and I've been able to place my beginners with professionals who take them to the more advanced levels of playing. Occasionally I get a call from a Pro asking if I have anyone ready for them to take over.

I'm not a "great" musician but I am a very good teacher. I approach the violin as another life-skill. I also know my limits. So, should I not take students simply because I'm not a professional musician? So far, I seem to be doing good and not doing any harm.

Edited: November 9, 2017, 3:06 PM · Thank you both for your insights. Teaching as an amateur is the least of my concerns. It's just that I'd like her to study with a pro if at all possible. I am thinking of telling my friend that I would love to teach her granddaughter. I am hoping that this will be okay. At the same time, I would like her to study with a pro in the near future if the situation permits. Is this a good move?
Edited: November 9, 2017, 3:23 PM · I was an amateur and through attrition I became the "local violinist" and concertmaster of the local community orchestra for a number of years and taught violin (and cello) for about 40 years. I never charged much while I lived in that location --started at $5/lesson in the mid 1960s and continued at that rate for 30 years- as long as I lived in that area.

I was advised (about 15 years) in by a fellow musician (who had played pro in a major symphony before he became a physicist) that I should never give lessons for free. The one time I violated that rule (about 10 years later) I learned he was right. When I moved to the SF Bay Area and taught for another 10 years I raised my rates closer to the local standards.

However, in this situation, with a student who has already demonstrated strong interest and ability, I would reconsider and at least do an audition. If I thought we could work together to her advantage I would do it as long as I could.

November 9, 2017, 3:25 PM · Hi Ella Yu
I think it is very generous of you to offer your friend free lessons which is a rarity because it is commitment that will eat up some of your free time. You were gracious enough to make the offer and that is sufficient even if by this time she has found a more convenient teacher. I will bet at some point your friend will write and thank you for your kind offer to help them amd give an explanation her current musical circumstances.

I have given free lessons for a very long time to poor neighborhood kids that cannot afford to buy strings and rosin and music books. They come to me with crooked bridges and slipping pegs and a lot of these kids do not really want to learn nor put in the time to practice but we all just try to do the best we can. This time of year with Christmas nearing I mention absolutely no presents for me. I do get homemade cookies and cakes once in a while which I share with my workmates the next day.

November 9, 2017, 3:58 PM · Nice to hear, everybody. I did not plan on giving free lessons, as plans have not been made yet. I might charge a small fee for them.
November 9, 2017, 4:01 PM · Ella, I think you have a very ethical outlook. It looks like you gave good advice, and I'm of the mind that really motivated people will go out and find someone. I wouldn't worry about why this person doesn't seem to be looking that hard.
November 9, 2017, 7:32 PM · @ Ella: If I understood, your main concern is the student's attitude. Why she didn't bother to play or look for a teacher. And the implication of it (because she doesn't want to play any more) is what has affected your friendship...
To me the red alert is "teenager".
Whatever your friend thinks of you, you are right. I think that as a friend first and as a violin player second, the best you can do is to have an interview with the student first. To do some kind of consulting. What is she thinking, what does she want to do. According to what you find out, you can suggest some solutions to your friend. From giving her a rest to help them to look for a teacher or a group to play and practice up to teaching her yourself if you think that you two can do it.

@ George Wells: Bravo on your effort. And I love your statement 'I'm not a "great" musician but I am a very good teacher'. I agree so much with the idea (that teachership is more important than skills on the matter) that I cheered at reading it.

Edited: November 10, 2017, 1:19 AM · Ella, by now I hope you've been sufficiently calmed by all the above supportive responses. You asked:
"How can I tell my friend that I would love to teach her granddaughter but at the same time know why she has not bothered to find another teacher."

I encountered similar situation a few times in the past. The reasons can be complicated, trust is one thing, lack of knowledge and skills to finding the right teacher is another. Sometimes it's a cultural thing too... I'm not going to speculate the reason, and you may want to reserve this task for a later time as well because I think you can be helpful to your friend and her granddaughter without asking why they don't look elsewhere (or maybe they did but they picked you).

This is what I'd do: meet with the teenager and see if she wants to play for you. Assess the situation and then decide how long you want to teach her, but make it clear to her and her grandmother what you think is the best long term solution in terms of finding a proper teacher. This long term teacher could be you, but could be someone you can recommend.

I completely agree with Carlos, you are to them a friend first, a violinist second.

November 10, 2017, 6:41 AM · On the topic of teaching and not being a "professional". It is one thing if you just learned the first song in an instruction book and completely different if you have a few miles on the instrument. On another note, one way for people to cement their own skills and understanding is in instruction to the less knowledgeable and skilled. A person at one level can teach another on a lower level, happens all the time.

As for your friend. Sorry that happened. You really need to talk to her. It sounds as if she may have been thinking you were just coming up with an excuse not to teach her kid. Maybe she has been too busy, trying to find that new teacher for her budding violinist. It's all guess work, better to get it from the horses mouth.

November 10, 2017, 7:26 AM · I think there's a significant difference between teachers who have very solid fundamentals themselves, and those that don't. Note that even advanced players may not necessarily have great fundamentals, and that not every teaching pro is at an advanced level of playing themselves.

Ideally you want to learn from someone who has great fundamentals and knows how to convey them and fix issues in the student.

I'm guessing that Ella can probably judge whether or not her fundamentals are solid enough to teach a beginner.

But it's not clear to me that this student is actually a beginner -- it sounds like they might not be. In that case they probably belong with a good professional teacher.

November 10, 2017, 11:24 AM · George I agree that there are always exceptional circumstances. I have one piano student even though I'm not anywhere near pro level in my technical skill at the piano. However the student wants mainly to learn how to improvise, and that is something that I do about as well as any of the other piano teachers in my area, at least, as far as I know. I had "the conversation" with his parents. Nobody went into the arrangement blindly.
Edited: November 10, 2017, 2:42 PM · Carlos,

Thanks for the affirmation. I stumbled into teaching when a neighbor child was frustrated at what was happening in his violin class in public school. Then I heard from other parents and eventually from the young musicians themselves.

My arrangement with the local professionals is that they are willing to reduce/waive their fees but the young musician has to be past all the beginner problems and have come to the point of committing to the instrument as well as practicing and not showing up at lessons un-prepared. Yes, that is a high bar and not all the young musicians I start make it that far as they lose interest. The few that meet the criteria are doing well and everyone is happy.

November 10, 2017, 6:15 PM · "I recently got an offer from a friend to teach an adolescent violin student. She took lessons, passed an exam, and because her teacher moved away, she hasn't played since the exam. ... The friend hasn't told me anything about this after receiving this message. I am trying to get at why she has not bothered to find a new teacher."

Sounds to me like there's an element of coaxing, minimising resistance, etc., involved here, and probably other nuances involved which we could speculate about at best. You should talk to her, preferably in person, and probably with the child as well.

I agree that the "friend first, teacher second" perspective might be the more useful one. A way out of your difficulties might be to have a meeting or more, and to gravitate towards helping them find a good teacher if that's what would suit the child.

November 10, 2017, 6:24 PM · Thank you all for your responses. I found Yixi's response to be particularly helpful. I have already sent the friend an email saying I would love to teach the adolescent violinist if need be after some long thought. The friend hasn't responded to me yet.
Edited: November 10, 2017, 11:02 PM · Ella, hopefully that is true, and this is what you want rather than what you think is right as it will be a lot more difficult later to severe the teaching relationship if it turns out that the child isn't a good match for you. If it were me, I think I would have said to my friend, "...I'd love to, however I don't know if I would be the best teacher for her, it depends on her goals, level and expectations. Can we first discuss the situation with her?"... and in the process find out if she did look around and if not why not, and lay some ground rules with both child and friend/parent that would set clear expectations and give me an acceptable future way out without affecting our friendship if it were to become necessary. You may know the saying:, never do business with friends and/or family! You sound a bit like you feel somewhat cornered into a situation you are not totally comfortable with.

P.s. addendum: Personally I would be upset if a friend had put me in that situation to begin with. Your friend should have asked for your advice for a suitable teacher, and leave the door open for you to offer. Don't feel bad about what you said.

November 11, 2017, 11:12 AM · Thank you so much for your response, Roger. I still haven't heard back from my friend, but hopefully, things are okay.

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