Teaching process?

Edited: December 31, 2017, 9:36 PM · I've been thinking about being a part-time violin teacher to make some money after graduating high school. Does anyone remember the order of teaching pieces to starters? All I can remember is that I started with twinkle twinkle little star, the Suzuki books, and scales.

Replies (34)

December 31, 2017, 10:24 PM · If you're teaching an absolute beginner, I'd start by teaching the basics of violin technique and then Suzuki Book 1.
December 31, 2017, 10:46 PM · Please, I beg of you, do not try teaching the violin at this stage of your own development. Or if you must, offer lessons at a very low price only to those students for whom lessons with a professional are prohibitively expensive.

Edited: January 1, 2018, 10:54 AM · I don't know how well he plays. I think it's good to practice on students who can't afford professional lessons or don't live near a teacher etc if there's a teacher shortage in the area, since teaching is a different art from playing. The teaching skills he acquires from this experience can be useful for other disciplines, too. I agree on charging lowish prices, but he's probably got some other job because he says he's only teaching part time. I once got an offer to teach a student (I'm no pro) with some experience. They previously had a teacher, but the teacher moved away and they never took lessons again. I once said that I would only teach them if a professional teacher was out of the question, but the person didn't respond (this business was a whole email conversation), so I assumed I hurt them with this comment and gave a bad impression. I don't think it really turned out that way, but there's a whole lot of details I don't know.
Edited: January 1, 2018, 11:26 AM · I assume there are teachers in his area since he's evidently taking lessons, at least I hope he is. I have seen too many students ruined by well-meaning but inadequate or incompetent teaching at the beginning for me to think that it's ever a good idea for an unqualified teacher to hang out a shingle. The only exception is in the case of students whose only choices are lessons with someone unqualified, or no lessons at all either due to the expense or the location--I am remembering the self-taught Indian gentleman who posted here awhile back.

There is a lot more to teaching the violin than simply being a presumably competent player oneself. And if students whose parents could send them to a professional teacher are ending up with an inexperienced amateur instead, that's terrible.

I worked at McDonald's the summer after my senior year of high school. It would never have occurred to me to try teaching anyone at that point. I knew I wasn't ready.

January 1, 2018, 11:53 AM · Unless you have a lot of teaching experience, its best to just follow a method such as Suzuki, Essential Elements, Strictly Strings, or other such method. If you try to put together your own method of teaching you will inevitably be introducing skills and concepts in a way that will be confusing to the student without realizing why. You can literally just walk the student through the book, but you may also find the need to add materials or skip parts depending on the student. Knowing when and why to do this for each individual student will come with experience as long as you are consciously trying to improve your value to the students.
Edited: January 1, 2018, 12:14 PM · Mary Ellen, I get that, but teachers must start somewhere, and good teaching skills comes from experience. Some professional teachers may have started doing some tutoring work as teens or university students to see if teaching is even for them and for other reasons. I strongly believe it is a good idea to study with a professional if at all possible, and it is definitely too bad for the student if they end up with an imcompetent teacher, even though they could easily access a competent one. I think part of the reason that many beginners even end up with horrid teachers is because I think a lot of people don't even know what to look for in a good teacher. In the beginning, sometimes it's a matter of luck in terms of getting a quality teacher or not, especially if you don't know what to look for in a teacher. Plus, I think there are some reasonable alternatives to university degrees, though university degrees are still the best. They're not great, but they show some form of qualification. An example could be the ARCT diploma from the Royal Conservatory of Music. The achievement level is somewhat lower than a university degree, but still quite high. I once heard of an excellent music teacher who only has an ARCT diploma. We can't make assumptions about the OP without him telling us the truth. When it comes to peacing together your own method, I think it's a matter of logic and how to approach skill-building.
January 1, 2018, 12:06 PM · Teaching is both a skill and an art. I realized that I didn't have a clue when I started teaching as a doctoral student in the Juilliard pre college division. A good teacher needs a method of teaching. It took me a long while for me to develop one and even then, I would not teach beginners because I feared giving them the wrong set up.

Mr. Chen may want to consider getting Suzuki teacher training.

January 1, 2018, 12:17 PM · I think you may need a university degree in order to get it. Please correct me if I'm wrong. It's not the only way to go.
Edited: January 1, 2018, 12:49 PM · You do not need a university degree to enroll in Suzuki teacher training; you just need to submit an audition tape--and you have to take the Every Child Can! course first before doing any of the books.


Edited: January 1, 2018, 3:31 PM · Teaching violin or cello had never occurred to me, but when I was about 30 years old I started to give violin lessons - and I only did it because family friends asked me to teach their two kids. I don't recall that that lasted very long - but I felt confident that I could do so based on the beginner music I still had from 20-25 years earlier. After they stopped lessons I picked up a few more students (after my work day) from time to time because of my local "fame" as the concertmaster of the community orchestra (a position I acquired through attrition and held until I was 50). I started out charging $5/lesson in 1965 and continued at that fee until we moved away 30 years later. (A fellow musician (my quartet's cellist) who also played multiple strings - actually he played them all and had been a bass player in the National Symphony before he became a physicist - told me you MUST always charge something for a lesson or else the student will act as though it is worth the nothing they are playing. I did later take one student for free - and it proved he had been right!)

My teaching methods became more organized sometime in the next 10 years when some of the more "independent" teenagers in the local Suzuki school were handed over to me by their teachers and I bought the Suzuki books to see what that was all about. Of course those new kids wanted to play things that were outside the Suzuki program (Wieniawski and such) I liked the similarities of Suzuki books to the way I had been taught (starting in 1939) and I appreciated the linear formalization of technique development presented. I added extra etudes etc. to my teaching as I thought appropriate.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned from 30 years of teaching in that town was the importance of students' physical differences to developing their technique and to "accessorizing" their equipment and what to expect teaching children and adults. When I retired from my "real " job and we moved to the SF Bay area I thought my teaching days were over, but 2 months later our younger daughter asked me to start teaching our 6 year old granddaughter violin so Sylvia and I embarked on a unique relationship which was to continue for 10 years - until she entered her junior year of high school , when she switched from classical to "genre" music. (It made for a special closeness that continues to this day - 13 years later - and will always stay with us). In order to get discounts at the local music store I registered with them as a violin and cello teacher (for something like $25 or $50/year), set up my music-teacher website and accumulated up to 8 students at a time (as much as I could handle because I was still working as a consultant). I had students who ranged from 6 to 60, but I had already learned to handle a wide range of student ages and personalities.

I quit teaching 10 or 11 years ago when I felt my technique had slipped too much and I could not demonstrate the way I wanted to (I know that didn't stop Galamian - but he was at a different level).

Edited: January 1, 2018, 1:02 PM · "I think part of the reason that many beginners even end up with horrid teachers is because I think a lot of people don't even know what to look for in a good teacher. In the beginning, sometimes it's a matter of luck in terms of getting a quality teacher or not, especially if you don't know what to look for in a teacher."

A current high school student or recent graduate with no teaching experience would be an excellent example of what to avoid in a teacher.

I got my very first teaching experience leading sectionals in my own high school orchestra--the teacher was a tuba player, and the students (peers) I was working with did not take private lessons. However, I was certainly not paid. My first paid teaching experience came as a student-teacher at Oberlin my junior and senior years when I had oversight from my own professor.

A far better way for a young person to gain teaching experience than simply hanging out a shingle would be to advertise oneself as a practice partner and work daily (or 5 days/week) with young Suzuki students whose parents may not have the time or inclination to do so. I believe there is an organization that supplies such practice partners in the Oberlin area and perhaps in other places as well. Naturally the hourly fee would be fairly low, higher than babysitting but lower than teaching. It would be best to contact local Suzuki teachers first to see if any of their students' families would be interested in such a service.

Edited: January 1, 2018, 2:10 PM · Mary Ellen, your suggestion is great. I don't know if that's available everywhere, though. Some school music directors may ask some of their more advanced students to tutor less-experienced students in the program for free, which is fine, too. Another possibility is to assist a beginning band/strings program in a typical school system. A lot of public school music students don't take private lessons. Ideally, they should, but they choose not to, and music directors just find it easiest to get student tutors. Yes, it is definitely a good idea to avoid high school/university people with no teaching experience, but my thinking is, there may be some people in the world who aren't sensible enough to realize that such a person could be a bad teacher. I think this group is a very small percentage, though. Another possibility for some people is to be the practice partner of a sibling or friend/relative, kind of like your idea, but not possible for everyone. Teaching a small number of private students (no more than 5) can be okay only if you were given offers by a family member/friend, even if you're not theoretically qualified. Even then, try to pass them on to more qualified teachers after a little while if at all possible, unless you can be their only teacher for various reasons. It's not an ideal way to get teaching experience, but it can be a last resort. Don't advertise yourself on the Internet and the like as a teacher if you're not qualified, except as a public school program teaching assistant and the like. I'm sorry, Mary Ellen, that I may be disaggreeing with you in a bad way, and I believe your opinions are very valued. However, situations can never be perfect, and I don't want to make any more assmptions without finding out more from the OP. My questions to him are: where would he get his students from, and at what level would they be playing at.
January 1, 2018, 2:06 PM · I am not making any assumptions. The OP has identified himself as a high school student soon to graduate, and his question makes it obvious that he has no teaching experience and no clear idea of how to start. If anything, I am assuming that he is in fact a competent violinist--otherwise I would not even be suggesting hiring himself out as a practice partner.
January 1, 2018, 2:13 PM · Good point. I'm just curious, though. He may have a wee bit of teaching experience helping experienced students with their current repertoire in a school group situation, but again, that's an assumption, and he must clarify. When I said one's making assumptions, I was probably being silly. Sorry.
January 1, 2018, 2:34 PM · Sorry, the fact that the OP said 'does anyone remember the order of teaching pieces' is an automatic NO WAY are you ready to teach from me.

Volunteer to help tune instruments in a Suzuki class, help with the younger kids in youth orchestra, ask your current teacher if you can observe her lessons with beginners.

January 1, 2018, 3:16 PM · You could also see if there are any local outreach programs for students who can't afford lessons. Teaching private outreach lessons was part of the curriculum at the pre-college program I attended, and it was a great learning experience. I also know a cellist who became her teacher's teaching assistant once she clearly became by far the best student in her teacher's studio. She would sub for the teacher for select lessons, observe a lot of them, and assist with some tasks. All of this was during high school, as well her gap year, so you may look at that if you are one of the better players in your studio.
January 1, 2018, 3:34 PM · These are some awesome ideas, guys. Thanks for sharing.
January 1, 2018, 4:33 PM · The practice partner idea is a good one, but even though it's not babysitting, it could dovetail into babysitting with extra pay. Lots of dual-professional families that don't have time for practice partnering, it's very time consuming. I suggest you enroll in the babysitting course that will be offered by your local parks and rec department because it's "basic training" for dealing with little kids.
January 1, 2018, 5:23 PM · Lots of great ideas in this thread.

I think teaching complete beginners is a specialized and difficult thing to do. Teaching little kids is a tough thing to do, as well. Teaching students past the total beginner stage is probably preferable for newbie teachers.

January 1, 2018, 5:46 PM · Hi Andrew,

Highly recommend you take Suzuki book 1 teacher training and observe a lot of teaching.

You gotta do what you gotta do to pay the bills, but just understand that a child's first teacher has lasting influence. I only began to substitute teach for my friends students at the end of my grad school at conservatory, and even then it took a while to get my bearings.

If you're doing it for the money and not out of any love for teaching, and you have other financial options, the ethics would be very questionable to me.

January 1, 2018, 6:48 PM · Get some training first, please! Take Suzuki or another certification, ask an excellent teacher if you can sit in and learn from them, but please do not teach with no training or clear sense of objectives and sequencing. Not saying you must get a full music degree before ever considering teaching anyone, but realize that teaching is a profession and a skill, not an entry-level summer job, even for a good violinist.
January 1, 2018, 8:03 PM · I'm worried Suzuki training is out of the question, due to a lack of a college degree. Observe other's lessons, and ask teachers for tips.
January 1, 2018, 8:28 PM · As I have already pointed out upthread, you do not need a college degree in order to take Suzuki teacher training. You need to take Every Child Can! and you need to submit an audition video. But it is not something the OP or anyone else could accomplish between now and the summer, and it is far from cheap.

I heartily agree with Kathryn that violin teaching is not an entry-level summer job.

January 1, 2018, 8:46 PM · To take Suzuki teacher training, you need to be at least 17 and have a high school degree. But the Suzuki Association membership plus the training itself is so expensive that compared to what you'd make in a summer of teaching, you'd have a net loss.

There are tutoring jobs for high school age students available out there, if you have an interest in teaching kids part-time. Just not the violin.

Edited: January 1, 2018, 10:08 PM · Thank you guys for correcting my mistake. I misread the post, sorry.
I would not say that getting a job teaching violin as a teen is absolutely impossible, though the chance is definitely tiny. The reason why I am saying this is because I don't know the OPs location and the violin education circumstances in his hometown. Therefore, I offer the following:
1. If you're choosing to teach violin for the sole purpose of making money, I strongly suggest finding another job of interest because your chances of earning money are greater.
2. If you're choosing to teach violin for the experience:
a. if you live in a financially-challenged region, preferably with a wide interest in music education, you may be able to find some interested students who can't afford professional instruction who are willing to take the opportunity to study music
b. you may be able to get a babysitting job that also involves assisting violin practice sessions, as suggested above or
c. don't expect much pay from this, but you may be able to assist a public school strings program or low-level youth orchestra by coaching sections or tutoring students not taking private lessons
January 1, 2018, 10:17 PM · I started off by offering lessons for free in my area (after having taught for fun for a couple of years while still a teen.... not very much, but at least it shows I had an interest in the teaching process).

The 2 first people that responded to my craigslist ads insisted on paying me, so I just charged $25/hour until I got my bearings with teaching. I slowly raised my rates over time to reflect my comfort/skill in teaching.

Anyways, some people have a natural aptitude towards teaching, so if it's something you love and feel like you're skilled at, then you may be able to get away with teaching at low rates even without certification of any sort. But it's always going to be better to have some sort of education on it.

If you're starving like I was when I started teaching, then you probably have no choice but to teach in order to survive. However, obviously certifications and classes are going to give you a huge head start in being able to transfer your own skill set to others, so if at all possible, I would recommend you take at least one class on basic teaching before you open up shop.

There is SO much to teaching properly, that I can't even begin to describe it. Learning how to teach properly, to a broad group of clients, is at least as time-consuming and difficult as learning how to play. You suddenly realize how vastly different everyone learns, and that you need to work around peoples' inherent weaknesses. A lot of the time, what worked for you WON'T work for them. So it's just very difficult to do well. Please price your rates very low (or do it for free for a while) to reflect your lack of experience in the meantime.

If you don't love teaching already, I don't recommend you do it. I'm a natural at telling other people what to do, and how to do it (to an annoying degree, in fact), so teaching made sense to me because it matched my personality. But if it doesn't, then don't. Unless you're starving.

January 1, 2018, 10:40 PM · Agree with you 100%, Erik. I think teaching skills can be learned/gained with experience to a degree, but personality really matters.
January 1, 2018, 10:45 PM · If the OP's primary interest is in learning how to teach violin, he would be far better served to observe as many lessons as possible while continuing his own studies.

If the OP's primary interest is in having a summer job to make money, then I recommend pursuing the usual types of summer jobs for teenagers: food service, retail, lifesaving at a pool, amusement parks, or (for those who are both ambitious and lucky) some kind of internship. I don't know where the OP lives but most metropolitan areas also have some kind of private math tutoring centers, and those will sometimes hire advanced high school students--you just have to pass a test.

As I previously mentioned, I worked at McDonald's the summer after my high school graduation. I then worked in the mortgage department of a savings and loan (this was obviously a long time ago) during subsequent student summers. I did not venture out on my own as a teacher (not counting my student experiences at Oberlin) until I was 24 with two performance degrees and an orchestra job, and then it was with much trepidation. Teaching is not easy money, nor is it something for which one is qualified simply by virtue of being able to play an instrument.

Dare I say it, I think it is good for everyone to have some kind of service or pink/blue-collar job experience no matter how highly skilled or high-status a career one ends up in.

Edited: January 1, 2018, 11:06 PM · Good points, Mary Ellen. I think the choice of when to venture out as a teacher is a personal one, and it must take lots of serious thinking. It depends on one's personality, ability and confidence. How do you know the OP is talking about summer jobs specifically? Some other posibilities include babysitting, gardening, yard work, and more. I 100% agree on observing lots of lessons, in addition to getting a bit of teaching practice if the situation permits through some of the above ideas like practice assistance, outreach programs, volunteering as a teaching assistant in group class settings, etc while continuing your own studies. If you're going to teach anyone and have no clue how, please at least ask your own teacher for tips to get started.
January 2, 2018, 12:33 AM · Andrew, where are you located? Perhaps we can recommend an instructor or youth orchestra program you can volunteer/apprentice with in order to acquire pedagogy skills. If your intent is to teach, then wonderful, it's time to begin that journey. :)
January 2, 2018, 3:16 PM · Teaching is all about the transmission of knowledge and experience. The best teachers, in my estimation and personal bias, are those who struggled to learn what they know. I've experienced both good and bad teachers in my life and generally found the best ones learned through lots of effort.

I never thought I was to be one until Bell Labs recruited me to work on a major AT&T project in a field where I had worked hard to acquire my skills and knowledge. At the same time I was an adult beginner on the violin dealing with all the things that we violinists have to learn.

Many years, and a successful career, later still playing the violin I got the calling to teach the violin in the person of a neighbor child who wanted to learn but the family could not afford lessons at the going rate.

Another factor of a good teacher is knowing your limits. When it comes to the violin, I think like an engineer. Things like body position, how to hold the bow, violin, et cetera are things that I'm very aware of and understand. I can also communicate these well. I can teach the basics and proven, through a series of students (all like my first) that I can bring them all the way into some pretty complex music as well as third and second position. That is when I hand these students off to much more accomplished teachers who appreciate them. No, I don't make a living at it - this is a labor of love. At the time I started teaching I had over 30 years of playing with more than 20 years of lessons.

Personally, I'm concerned about Mr. Chen's desire to "make some money" from teaching. I get the desire to get paid for a skill you have developed but have to ask: "Do you know how to teach somebody else what you have learned?" The best suggestion is to ask your teacher if he would like to hire you to coach some of his other students.

January 2, 2018, 3:44 PM · My questions to Andrew, as stated previously in this thread, are: where will you source your students from, where do you live, why do you want to teach, and at what levels will you be teaching at. Without this information, I cannot assume that he wants to teach just for profit, and I cannot assume that he wants to get paid for a skill he has already developed. Plus, if I don't know the violin education circumstances in his hometown, it is harder to give him fully accurate ways to achieve his goals.
Edited: January 2, 2018, 5:18 PM · *The best teachers, in my estimation and personal bias, are those who struggled to learn what they know. I've experienced both good and bad teachers in my life and generally found the best ones learned through lots of effort.*

This is an intriguing statement which, in my opinion as a non-violin teacher, I have found to be true in many situations.

Those with aptitude and talent learn fastest. At the same time their natural ability allows them to take for granted, or to bypass any approaches that methodically help others to achieve the same level. Such people are more likely to get impatient teaching those not as gifted.

Similarly, a child learning a foreign language naturally can be very fluent at it, but she would almost certainly lack the ability to teach that language to an adult, since she acquired it 'organically', not methodically.

A great teacher disregards her own capabilities and walks a mile in students' shoes, examine current teaching literature, integrate it to her experience, and carefully apply what works best on a case by case basis.

January 2, 2018, 9:02 PM · I don't think the difference in a teacher's understanding is in struggling to learn or not. I think it's in their consciousness of what they're doing.

Teachers with an intuitive understanding of the instrument may find it difficult to explain what they're doing or why. Sometimes these teachers will instruct in a very physical way -- getting students to feel their muscle movements and try to imitate them, for instance -- because they cannot precisely verbally articulate what they are doing.

Teachers with a methodical understanding of the instrument can explain what they are doing and why. They may have learned just as quickly as those with an intuitive understanding, though.

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