Three things I learned recently as an adult violin pupil.

December 23, 2017, 5:51 AM · I love violin discussions here. Everyone understands the struggle, depth, intricacies, and process of learning the violin. People who don't play the violin really don't understand the absurd nature of learning the violin. So I love knowing that you guys get it.

I said that to say...I am reminded weekly of the importance of having a teacher, and what a difference a good and knowledgeable teacher makes. It isn't enough for them to be a good player. They have to be able to teach as well. I struggled for more than two years before I found a truly good teacher. Though I have been taking lessons since I started I am now finally seeing the difference between teachers.

I am learning most importantly I think how to practice. Where my teachers before just corrected the things I did in lessons my current teacher corrects my practice habits. Where I thought before I practiced with focus I now am just beginning to understand what that means in context with violin playing. It isn't about concentration but about the habits of practice. It isn't about the repetitions but about the quality of the repetitions.

The next most important thing I think is learning to truly listen. The things I don't hear are incredibly numerous and the things I thought I was doing well are horrendously flawed. (In a good way that I can improve). The steadiness of a cluster of notes, for example, I just never noticed a little hesitation, or a little jerk that jumps the gun. I never noticed it in my violin playing and I never noticed it in the adult learners I watch on YouTube or other places. Now it screams at me.

The third top thing that I learned since finding my new violin teacher is how much tension I truly carry. I thought I was loose. I thought my shifts were smooth(ish) I have very good body awareness but clearly not enough for the violin. I am now noticing tension in my left thumb,tension in my forearm muscles for each finger, for vibrato, for string crossings. I notice tension in my left shoulder and tension in my left scapula, tension in my neck. Then to compound these issues when I focus on my bow arm these tensions bleed right back as soon as I "fix" them to the extent I can right now.

In addition, as I learn new techniques deficiencies crop up in my other techniques that are caught by my teacher far sooner than if I were going it alone and far more quickly and efficiently than any of my previous teachers.

I am not one that believes that you must have a violin teacher. I think that if my only ambition were to play at a church a song here or there or play for my own amusement I would have been happy.

But! If you have any ambition of playing at any higher level than that I think that a teacher, a GOOD teacher is not just necessary but integral. I think for any ambition in excess of your own amusement or playing for Grandma you MUST have a teacher.

I am not trying to start a lengthy discussion about if you should or shouldn't have a violin teacher necessarily. I just wanted to share an eye opening experience that I have been having since finding a teacher that clicks for me.

Happy holidays!

Replies (24)

December 23, 2017, 12:12 PM · Great to hear! Agree with you 100%. I agree that a teacher is strongly recommended, but it is absolutely NOT the end of the world if you can't have one for life reasons, as is the case for many people.
December 23, 2017, 10:14 PM · I absolutely agree with you. I think the most important of the three is learning how to practice, and for me it has been the hardest (I'm still trying to find my way, even after 9 years). I wonder if teachers assume that adults know how to practice already just because they're adults.
December 24, 2017, 12:08 AM · I like how you are finding negatives in your playing and understanding that this is a good thing instead of letting it overwhelm you. Now that you know of the issues, you can address them whereas if you didn't know about them you would continue the problem. It really goes to show how valuable a good teacher is!
December 24, 2017, 4:52 AM · Jesse: I will remember your words as I make my New Year's Resolutions.
December 24, 2017, 7:24 AM · Thanks for your responses! Merry Christmas eve!

Karen I suspect that is at least partly true. I think that might be part of it. But it is so difficult for one person to tell another what to do in our culture. There is a concept I think that says everyone is just as capable and smart as everyone else. And so people tend to get insulted if they are told that they don't know something or are not doing something correctly. So I think that some things go unsaid or untaught because of this perception.

December 24, 2017, 9:28 AM · It's not difficult for me to tell people what to do, at least in regards to music.

People who are successful at something are trainable. Yes, some people don't like to be told what to do, or think they know better than I do. In that I'd say fine, figure it out yourself. Fortunately, few students are like that.

I had an adult student in her 60s that lasted one lesson: I was asking various questions, trying to get a fix on what she knew, just simple stuff like what key the piece was in, etc. after a couple of questions, she exclaimed "you're just setting traps for me so you can tell me I'm wrong!"

Now THAT is an untrainable person. At least by me...

December 24, 2017, 10:05 AM · That makes sense. So is there merit to Karen's question or do you think her premise is wrong? I.e Do you think teachers approach adults and children in the same manner or differently? If it is different why?
Edited: December 25, 2017, 4:35 AM · Jessie Ringquist said, "I think that if my only ambition were to play at a church a song here or there or play for my own amusement I would have been happy." Made me smile. J S Bach might not have agreed that making music for God demands lower standards than playing for a paying public. Just joking ;-)
December 25, 2017, 6:03 AM · Hahaha. Fair enough. I am sure you are right!
Edited: December 25, 2017, 8:45 AM · Jesse, one of the reasons (probably the main reason) reason I study with a teacher is that I want someone to tell me what to do. Not that I don't want to think for myself, but a good teacher can see/hear what I can't, and can help me solve problems more quickly. Over the years I have come to see that advice on how to practice is just as valuable as advice on what goes on in the lesson room.
December 26, 2017, 5:30 AM · I think that most people want someone to tell them what to do. Most of us (myself included) tend to be followers. We all like to think of ourselves as independent but I think that is a lie we tell ourselves so that we feel unique. Either way it is not bad or good unless that is how you view it. Knowing that following someone down a path will likely lead you to your destination more quickly is ok. And when you have made it down that path then you know the way to show other people. Our country and culture often sees humility and lack of ego as a weakness when it can easily be a strength and in many areas is a requirement. In order to be taught you must not have an ego and humility is essential.
Edited: December 26, 2017, 6:39 AM · Well said Jessy. I definitely agree that the American culture tends towards self-independence and being a cowboy and rebel. This can be good or bad, but too much without the other to balance out can't be good.

I might point out the possibility that maybe your prior teachers were telling you how to practice, how to notice the 'jerkiness' of your motions, etc. but you weren't ready for it then. To go along with your motif of ego and humility, I doubt this was the case for you but you get the idea: learning is a two way street.

I definitely think teaching adults vs. children require different tactics and strategies. That can be a whole new thread on its own.

For example, I suspect the biggest difference from a teacher's point of view is that a child will be less likely to question what you want him/her to do whereas an adult would. From the student's point of view, a child might focus on just what is happening now and no further, while an adult will see the bigger picture (daunting -in the world of violin- as it may be) clearer. In other words, generally speaking, a child will believe anything's possible, while an adult tends to be more pragmatic. I don't teach violin, so I am going at this from just my own experiences.

December 26, 2017, 12:14 PM · Kan Pai: "For example, I suspect the biggest difference from a teacher's point of view is that a child will be less likely to question what you want him/her to do whereas an adult would."

I don't consider questioning a bad thing by itself, unless it disrupts the flow of the lesson. Often I ask "why?" because I'm curious, not because I am trying to challenge the teacher's authority, or be a rebel or a cowboy. I'm really interested in how people learn things like violin (or viola) that require both physical and mental skills. But maybe I should save any pedagogy questions for outside of the lesson itself.

Edited: December 26, 2017, 2:25 PM · Karen: "But maybe I should save any pedagogy questions for outside of the lesson itself."

Possibly. One thing an adult teacher and adult student can do is to have a cup of coffee at the end of the lesson and discuss the other aspects of the violin beyond the technical, share life experiences involving the violin or not, in addition to the whys and hows, which I find sometimes more meaningful than the lesson itself.

December 26, 2017, 5:32 PM · I'd be worried if a fully developed adult wasn't questioning anything. It's important to know why & how things work, otherwise you're just blindly following instructions & won't be set up for independence later in your career (maybe this doesn't apply so much to adult beginners, but you'd think it would be very important for students?)
December 27, 2017, 8:35 AM · I feel like there is a fundamental idea that needs redefined in the teacher student relationship. A good teacher will connect with and be more successful with students than an ok or poor teacher. That is a given. It seems to me that a good teacher probably is not set in any one methodology. They are able to be flexible and adjustable to the needs, personality, life experience etcetera of a student be it adult or child. But I think that the adult student needs to be able to interact in a way that invites a variety of approaches and methods. I think the onus is more heavily weighted on the student to break down the barrier that society sets in place. This barrier that says that because an adult is an adult they are naturally less flexible, less trainable (mentally) than a child.

Society says that adults are less teachable. If that idea is to change then by definition adults must become more teachable.

Edited: December 27, 2017, 11:33 AM · Jessy Ringquist: "Society says that adults are less teachable. If that idea is to change then by definition adults must become more teachable."

How can that be achieved? And if it can't be achieved globally, how can individual teachable adults identify themselves as such - with a badge or a sign hung around the neck :-)

I'm joking (sort of), but even on this website there are teachers who declare "adults always..." and "adults never..." and it seems nothing will convince them otherwise. The teachable adult, if one even exists, is such a needle in the haystack that to many teachers it seems not worth the bother.

Edited: December 27, 2017, 12:06 PM · The thing is there is no uniform way of playing and this leads one to pose questions about what is efficient and functional and what is merely received unquestioned tradition. This is further complicated by one's own individual physiology that might suggest different manouevers relative to that of the teacher's.

I guess my questions would be when is it really worth questioning one's teacher and when is one knowledgeable enough to assume that function?

Edited to add: this is of course in the case where one has suficient reason to question the teacher. Questioning for the sake of questioning would be a loss of time better spent on practicing.

December 27, 2017, 1:14 PM · I frequently question my teacher. Sometimes it's because I want to understand the "why" behind something, especially if it seems like a trick that doesn't have an obvious logical explanation -- sometimes these things just fool the brain into doing the right thing. Sometimes it's because it contradicts something another teacher has told me, often years ago, and I want to understand what's led to a different conclusion. (Contradictory advice isn't at all unusual in violin-playing, especially from teachers from different stylistic "schools".)
Edited: December 27, 2017, 2:10 PM · Lydia what would do in the case where the teacher suggests a certain technique that you werent convinced in given that you were successfully following another manner of doing things that you had worked on with your previous teacher ? In other words that you find yourself in between the different stylistic "schools"?
December 27, 2017, 2:18 PM · Historically, my teachers, in my adult years, have left alone things that were working for me, or they've suggested alternatives I could take or leave.

In general, my primary childhood teacher taught Galamian-style technique. From my mid-teens onwards, though, I had teachers who are all Russian-style, albeit reflecting different influences. A long hiatus caused me to revert to more of my childhood technique, instinctively, but when I'm more conscious of what I'm doing, the Russian influence is highly dominant, and it works well for me.

I've experienced many master-class suggestions that I haven't been convinced were necessarily great ones (they've always been worth experimenting with, though), but my actual teachers have generally given solid technical advice.

The technique of advanced students shouldn't get deconstructed and rebuilt, usually, unless there are major issues and the teacher really knows what they're doing. I did a rebuild in my teens that was worthwhile because it worked around the issues caused by a torn ligament in my left elbow.

December 27, 2017, 2:47 PM · Thanks Lydia, interesting to read.
January 1, 2018, 7:45 AM · I have by no means any credible background in philosophy, but one of the fundamental concepts is "Essence" and "Phenomenon", which in laymen terms, "the iceberg" and "tip of the iceberg".

The reason why everyone stress the importance of a teacher is that, as an audience with professional training, they can help u notice any "phenomenon"s (i.e. intonation, form, posture, bowing); if they are REALLY REALLY good, they can tell you what the "essence" of that problem is (i.e. Intonation -> ill-positioned hand frame; bow change -> pinky problem, etc.).

And the challenge to that is, most amateur musicians who play without a teacher cannot even notice the "phenomenon"s in their playing (i.e. out of tune), let alone seeing it through to the "essence" that is the root cause to their playing.

So honestly, I'm quite glad that OP has found a teacher that have taught you how to practice and listen, which are the very essential skills to noticing the wrongdoings that may occur in the playing.

January 1, 2018, 10:32 AM · Thanks to Jessy for a valuable commentary on how to learn to play violin, and to all the commenters who enrich the lesson. As a so-far self-taught intermediate-beginner, I need it --including the encouragement to find a teacher and a schedule for occasional lessons. I can tell by the nuance in your descriptions Jessy that you are much further along and finer in your playing than I am! I am so glad to have access to your insights built on your experience.

I have a few unreachable North Stars that give me direction for the long-term, including exemplary writers like Jessy and many others here at, as well as highly accomplished musicians at the Yale School of Music where I have the geographic luck to frequently put myself in the audience, up close where I can study their technique. That YSM luck extends to what is probably an unusually frequent performance of baroque music on historic instruments, which has strengthened and inspired my own special love for early music and my concentration on it at this early phase of my learning to play.

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