Senior Violin student

Friederike said: Feb 25, 2016
Friederike Lehrbass
Suzuki Association Member
Plano, TX
71 posts

I have a violin student who is 80 years old.I took her over from another teacher in august. She also travels a lot, so doesn’t always practice.(Last lesson she blew up at me, bec I mentioned her age and joking practicing 70 times,ect, I didn’t know it bothered her) She said it’s hard to learn the violin and may be she should have never started. I know one challenge is that she travels so much and can’t always keep her practice schedule( I didn’t see her for the entire month of January). So how can I help her efficiently to learn? She said she doesn’t like to play the pieces of the Suzuki material. She wants to fiddle. I realize I need to change my approach.(and also not mention age, what’s not that easy, bec age does affect our playing, like stiffer hands, etc.) How can I help her with that also? What’s your experience with older beginning students like that? Thanks

Praise the Lord with the stringed instrument

Kelly Williamson said: Feb 26, 2016
Kelly WilliamsonTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Flute, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Cambridge, ON
246 posts

I am a flutist, but I had a student who was in her early eighties. (This is some years ago and she was a life-long music enthusiast—so at the time, thanks to her being thirty years older than I was, she’d actually been playing the flute longer than I had!) She was quite short of breath and also had arthritis in her fingers. Nevertheless, she wanted to work on Bach sonatas and other things which were well beyond the level that I felt she could play well. (I suggested other repertoire, but she said this was what she wanted to play).

We’d begin each lesson with her showing me what she’d practiced… I’d hear a section then we’d slow it down to maybe half that speed so she could get something like better sound on each note. I felt at a loss at first, because I couldn’t understand how it could satisfy her to play the music that way. Especially as a committed patron of classical music in the community, surely she could hear that it didn’t sound good! Why was she insisting on trying to play this stuff? Then I decided that she wanted to have music actively in her life. From that angle, she wanted to come and talk about music, work at it herself, and appreciate it in a personal way. Simpler stuff wouldn’t answer that need—it had to be Bach and other great music. I stopped feeling frustrated with her musical choices and fighting it (mostly internally), and focused on talking about the musical aspects as much as possible, focusing less on her difficulties with execution. Of course I continued to try to give her technical advice for how to do things better—but I stopped expecting that she’d practice at home that way. I slid in some easy duets or tone exercises as short “studies”, in between the pieces she would choose. It worked and she was very happy.

I am sure there are easy fiddling pieces which could give your student the sound and style they want—a duet where they did something fairly simple (but still sounding like fiddling) and you did more complicated stuff would be ideal! And shorter pieces would be better than longer ones, if you’re trying to give her something closer to what her mind wants but her technical level can’t really reach. But as you say, changing your approach and trying not to focus on what she “can’t” do, will probably help a great deal. Good luck!


Janie said: Feb 26, 2016
 Violin, Recorder, Viola
Glenwood Springs, CO
16 posts

Kudos to you for bringing the joy of violin playing to this adventurous lady! I can relate to both of you in so many ways. I have been teaching violin for a little over 20 years and have had students as young as 2 1/2 and as old as 73. For myself, I am 70, and finding many things harder to learn than I did a few years ago.

Speaking as a teacher, I would say that if she wants to learn fiddle tunes, then by all means teach her fiddle tunes. Many of the wonderful things Suzuki has to offer kind of go out the window by age 80. Is a perfect bow hold really important at this point in her life? Or a perfect left hand frame? Or the progression of keys or the bow? Is she going to audition for a major symphony orchestra? My guess is that she wants to play for the joy of it, so give her the joy. Still insist on good technique of course, but if the Suzuki tunes don’t ring her bell, who really cares? You know what good technique is and you can apply your knowledge to any repertoire. As for the traveling, isn’t it wonderful that she still travels. So she misses a few lessons and practice sessions. Ask her to bring you stories from the places she visits. Ask her to play some notes that sound like the things she saw.

Have you seen the Brian Wicklund fiddling books? They are very well organized and built in a Suzuki-like way. As I remember, he is a Suzuki teacher himself. There are 2 volumes, including most of the standard fiddle repertoire. They are simplified, but if she has an ear for fiddling, she will know how to embellish them. You can also teach her how to do that when she gets the basic tune down. The Fiddlers Philharmonic series is also nice. There are many fiddling books out there that would work for her.

Speaking as someone who is entering the “golden years” phase of my life, I also bristle when people suggest that age might be a barrier to something I am trying to do. It’s true, I’m older, but I’m not dead yet. I am not interested in climbing Mt. Everest, but I still like to hike challenging trails. Just because I am older does not mean I have dementia, or that I can’t tell the difference between Mt. Everest and a more achievable goal. Kudos to her for continuing to travel and pursue her goals and interests. You are lucky to have her.

Enjoy this special lady and learn from her. You will learn far more that you teach, and you will be able to add what you learn to your bag of tricks for the future.


Briana LeClaire said: Feb 26, 2016
7 posts

Thank you for this question and the response, and I look forward to more of them. I learn so much from this forum.

I have several retired ladies as beginning cello students and they all want to play the Bach Cello Suites. So we do it, starting with the easiest pieces we can. Then they are receptive to scales, etudes, etc.—to an extent!

Kelly nailed it when she named what makes an older student want to play. They want to actively create music and be a part of the larger conversation across space and time. I see my job as helping them to fulfill their cello dreams. I will continue to learn as much as I can about teaching and bring that to my students, but if my adult students dream of Bach, we’re going there!

The bottom line with adults is they’re grownups and can do what they want. So far, we’ve managed to meet in the middle.

Friederike said: Feb 26, 2016
Friederike Lehrbass
Suzuki Association Member
Plano, TX
71 posts

Thanks so much for your suggestions and counsels. They are very helpful. I ordered one of the books and will order the other too. Thanks so much for the suggestions

Praise the Lord with the stringed instrument

Arlene said: Mar 1, 2016
Arlene Patterson
Suzuki Association Member
Longmont, CO
13 posts

There are fiddle camps your student might really enjoy. Rocky Mountain Fiddle Camp in Colorado comes to mind. The director’s mother started attending camp in her 80’s and was a well loved, enthusiastic camper for many years.

Strings magazine will list many summer music camps including fiddle camps such as Alasdair Fraser’s Valley of the Moon and his Sierra music camp, both in California. Or google alasdair fraser fiddle camp.

Mark O’Connor has a well respected camp as well.

Another well respected camp is Swannanoa.

I’d ask what style of fiddling your student is most interested in and help her search for a camp that would be of most interest for her based on her love of a particular artist or style. Your local library would be a good place to start for lots of listening examples.

The beauty of fiddle camps is that there is no expectation of skill on the instrument or repertoire. In fact there is always (at least at Rocky Mtn Fiddle Camp) a “never ever” class. Folks are encouraged to pick up a new instrument and give it a shot. My daughter and I took beginning ‘cello one year and my daughter takes hammered dulcimer every year now. In a “beginners please” class, no-one is judged on ability, but highly encouraged to act on their curiosity. Your student could review basics and either be a leader or move up to the novice class.

Attending a summer camp will also create in your student what educators describe as “a need to know”. In other words, if your student finds a particular tune or style of music she’d like to play, there will be techniques that will be desirable, such as finger patterns, bowing techniques and patterns, a need for speed (finger independence and the ability to anchor fingers), etc. in order to play the music she loves.

At fiddle camps, usually the music is taught by ear.

Ideally, your student will feel motivated to acquire some skill ahead if time and come home with a list of things she’d like to work on.

Scales arpeggios and broken thirds in at least G, D, A and Bb will prepare your student for most many fiddle tunes.



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