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How to Find the Right Teacher

Hello everyone,

Today I’m finishing up my series on raising musician children and I’m talking about how to know if your violin teacher is a good match for your child.

As a teacher for many years, I’ve taught a lot of students that had previously spent years with teachers that either poisoned them against their instrument/music with negativity, let them get away with horrible technique or both.

Most of the students I came across were “fixable” but some were not. If you are a parent of a child who is currently taking lessons, I’m hoping to provide you with some solid information, so you can avoid wasting time, money and causing you and your child a lot of frustration.

Today, I’m specifically talking about violin and viola because they share the same basic technical foundations, so some of the information I’ll be providing will not apply to your child if they play the bass or cello.

There are 3 primary ways in which you can tell if your child is matched up with the best teacher.

1. How is their mood AFTER the lesson? Their mood or willingness BEFORE a lesson can be an indicator for sure but how they are after the lesson is most telling. It’s just human nature. Most of us are not super thrilled to get out of bed in the morning and run to the gym but after we are done, we usually feel great and are glad that we went. Often times a violin lesson is very similar to this. In my experience, it takes about 4-6 months for a student to get acclimated to a new teacher. After this time period, you’ll want to see how your child is after the lesson. If they are generally expressing negative emotions, then that is a red flag. Are they sad, depressed, overly tired and un-talkative? If this is the case, then perhaps the teacher is not creating the positive experience that is necessary for a kid to want to practice and improve.

2. Is their technique correct? With the violin and viola, there are a few key things to look for. If your kid has been with a teacher for at least 4-6 months, you should start to see either an improvement in their “set-up” or a totally correct set-up if they started with the teacher.

There are some obvious caveats to these rules. If your student has been with a teacher for a really long time and learned terrible technique, it could take the new teacher quite a while to fix the bad habits.

At the very least, you should hear the teacher talking about the necessary improvements in the lesson. The older the student, the harder it’ll be for them to break the bad habits. If the student is a teenager, it could be nearly impossible for a new teacher to fix bad habits. It could take years. You should look for:

A) Straight wrist in the left hand. No player should have a bent wrist in their left hand and this is a very strong indicator that the teacher is not doing their job.

B) Straight thumb on bow hand.

C) Straight pinky or raised fingers on bow hand.

3. Watch their progress. This is a hard one because typical or normal progress is highly dependent on what level they are at. If they are more of a beginner, (for example Suzuki book 1 though 3, then they should probably be learning at least 1 new song every other week or so. My students generally would take about 2 weeks to polish up 1 piece and were simultaneously working on another piece as well as their warm up exercises. Some kids could learn 2 new ones per week and some kids were about 1/2 as fast. It mostly depended on how much the parents worked with their kids at home.

However, I’ve seen some kids who were stuck on Twinkle Little Star for months with another teacher for months. If this is the case, there is something definitely wrong. If they are playing more advanced Suzuki type of pieces like book 4-6, then it make take a 4-6 weeks to really get a piece down. However, if they are working on a piece for several months, then I’d would definitely want to take a look at that situation and see what is going on.

More advanced kids will need a lot more time to finish pieces. If they are teenagers and working on advanced pieces like major sonatas or concertos, it could take 6 months or more to learn a movement, so it really depends.

Hope this helps!