Problems with current teacher—should we change teacher?

Louise La Force said: Aug 21, 2017
 1 posts

Your insight is very much appreciated. I apologize for the length of this post.

I’ve been uneasy about our current teacher off and on for the past two years, but have not figured out how much of the problem I can solve as a Suzuki parent, how much of it the teacher can solve, and how much I need to accept as being all part of the process. Or if we need a new teacher!

Here are the facts:

  1. My son asked to start violin lessons at 3 and was for a some time enthusiastic and willing to practice his Suzuki pieces, particularly when he could learn them easily and move on to the next.

  2. He is now 7 and hates violin practice.
    He still loves to invent his own music or repeat his sibling’s music or movie themes he’s heard, thank goodness. However ever since the end of book 3 and now, the beginning of book 4, it seems that we have gone at a snail’s pace, but not for the right reasons. We have been working on our current piece since the end of spring, which seems like an eternity. It is not polished, but it really could have been, in my humble, inexpert opinion. My son’s frustration, as well as my own, stems from the fact that our teacher does not seem to help us with enough technical explanations or drills or tips on how to make it sound better. When I ask specifically, our teacher simply says we need to practice more. But I feel there should be more to this. For rhythm and rapid fingering, perhaps we could intentionally practice in a different rhythm, or practice the fingering backwards and forwards (like I did when learning piano), or practice scales, maybe? When I suggest these things, the teacher is vague and non-committal. I started using Youtube and blogs to research practice tips a couple of years ago because of this seeming lack of guidance, although we don’t do this for every piece. Since I’m not a violinist, I hope I’m not doing more harm than good.

  3. There is little consistency and no overarching goals.
    The teacher asks us to buy certain books for sight-reading or specific techniques, all good ideas in my mind, but inevitably after a month or two she will abandon them, and we don’t have the heart to insist on finishing them or practicing them at home by ourselves. Our teacher does not discuss technical or musical goals for the short, middle or long-term. It’s as if everything is free-floating and she implements whatever interesting idea she thinks might be beneficial, but then discards it when the novelty has worn off. She has often asked to be reminded what we were working on the week before, and does not appear to notice that we get stuck on a piece for long periods of time. The rare times I’ve gently pointed this out and explained that my son was getting frustrated, she appeared to be surprised that so much time has elapsed. In short, I feel she does not follow her students’ progress as closely as she ought.

  4. Regarding our home practice, I feel we are a bit inconsistent ourselves. There are periods when my son and I are very productive (he likes the piece, I’m feeling energetic, we are working with a goal in mind, such as a recital, the teacher has given us guidance that works for us or we’ve found them online), and others when we’re limp and bored. My son learned Bach’s Gavotte in D major in five days and played it as a polished piece, at the end of that week, so with consistent guidance I feel he would be so much happier! Perhaps we are the type to work better with a teacher with a firm grip, who can take advantage of those times when we are working hard, and to keep the flame alive when we have too many other things going on or the piece just isn’t inspiring? This teacher is lovely and gentle, but not authoritative or energetic.

  5. I have talked to two other families in the same studio who feel the same way. One of them is leaving because of the reasons mentioned above.

I feel that if something doesn’t change soon, my son will lose his love of the violin.
Thank you for reading all of this. I welcome your suggestions.

Joanne Shannon said: Aug 22, 2017
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Los Angeles, CA
49 posts

Personally, I feel the fit between parent(student) and teacher should be adequate enough that you are not questioning everything. I’ve lost students because I was a bit much for a parent and rather than ask me to slow down, they just quit. I have also recommended other teachers who might suit a student better than myself. I have also taken on a student from another teacher upon the parent’s strong request. I usually try to avoid this! and it turned out wonderful. I study jazz piano with a professional who actually quit on me because I wasn’t the “shining star” about whom he could brag about! Door closed— another one opened—and now I have a teacher that is giving me exactly what I expected out of my lessons. You just never know!

Edward said: Aug 23, 2017
Edward Obermueller
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Morris Plains, NJ
41 posts

Sounds like a very frustrating situation, I’m glad you reached out on the forum.

A clear sense of direction and constant re-engagement with the student are two priorities I recommend for every teacher.

As a parent you might be interested in some of the philosophy in my guide Five Ways To Motivate Your Kids To Practice

(I’ve since revised the material a bit, you can get the revision by signing up on the home page: EdwardsViolinStudio.com.)

Happy practicing,
Edward

Free Guide: Five Ways To Motivate Your Kids To Practice

MaryLou Roberts said: Sep 3, 2017
MaryLou RobertsTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Guitar
Ann Arbor, MI
256 posts

My comment is from the perspective of a Suzuki violin mom for 12 years, and I am also a Suzuki Guitar teacher trainer.

My first thought is that you have experience very fast progress, possibly too fast. If the details are not clear in each piece, it can end up to be frustrating for the student. The idea is to build skills in a step by step way, using these beautiful pieces. Moving to a new piece is only motivating if the accompanying skill is also learned and fluent.

The teacher—parent- child relationship is sometimes challenging. As a parent, I would ask more questions. What is the training of the teacher? How much teacher training has the teacher had? If there is a good background, ask for more details when your child is stuck on a piece. You need to understand exactly what has to happen in the current piece. If the teacher doesn’t know or is vague, then consider finding a more qualified teacher. If the teacher knows and gives you the ways to improve, and you are not practicing due to lack of motivation, perhaps the pieces are not prepared with enough skill building that happens during review…..enough fluency. When the pieces are fluent, all the skills needed to take the next step are well known, and it is enjoyable to move to the next piece.

Glad you are asking advice, best wishes!

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