Teaching with or without the instrument?

Connie Sunday said: Sep 27, 2009
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

I was wondering, as a teacher, do you teach, holding the violin/viola or do you just sit and observe and comment? I’m thinking that most of my beginning music teachers (aside from orchestra directors) did hold the instrument, play along with me and demonstrate. But then as I got more advanced, the teachers just sat and observed and commented. They rarely demonstrated, mostly not at all in university.

Also, since teachers have also invariably been students, what do you recall about your own teachers, in regard to whether they demonstrated, or just sat and observed/commented?

Additionally, for piano teachers, do you have a second piano or keyboard in your teaching studio?


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Sara said: Sep 27, 2009
191 posts

My teachers usually demonstrated even in advanced lessons at the University. Probably not as much the more advanced I was. But still some. I think my earlier teachers played along with me quite a bit for intonation and rhythm. I always enjoyed it more and felt I pulled more from the lesson when my teacher played along with me.
Especially if a teacher can play a harmony or counterpoint melody this makes a student work a little harder and it is good for their brain. I think it is also more motivating to have a teacher play because 1. the student has something to compare himself with and 2. It show how well the student knows the piece. If he/she can easily play along with harmony then the piece is well underway, if they get flustered they need more practice and usually they know they need the practice without the teacher saying much about it. It’ a good way to “test” without them knowing you are “testing”.

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Mikaela said: Sep 29, 2009
Mikaela CashViolin, Viola
28 posts

[color=FF0040]As a student, I was always more comfortable when my teacher played with me. I still continue to take lessons at the advanced level, and my piano teacher has a second keyboard (I don’t think this is essential at all, though, and he rarely plays with me—just uses it to demonstrate) and my violin teacher has his violin out 10% of the time.
As a teacher, I always have my violin out, and I play along with my students/demonstrate about 60% of the time, but one has to remember that simply watching the student play is just as important. This allows you as the teacher to critique posture, intonation, rhythm, sound, and confidence without the distraction of your “cover-up” playing. Good question! You got me thinking on a topic not often discussed! [/color]

said: Sep 29, 2009
 18 posts

My child’s teacher uses the violin frequently to demonstrate and to play along (early book 1 level).

Barb said: Sep 30, 2009
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

As a cello student my first and second year teacher demonstrated and played with me sometimes with her cello and once in a while accompanying with the piano. My second teacher had wrist/hand issues and I can’t remember her demonstrating or playing along the year I went to her—though she probably did a little. My university prof rarely demonstrated, almost never played along.

My violin teacher (just into Suzuki bk 4) always had his violin out and demonstrated a lot.

As a beginning cello teacher I demonstrate a lot and accompany a lot. I believe the students usually find it very rewarding to play duets—even when their part is open strings! (I use a few things including Cello Time Joggers to give them performable songs when they are not ready to move through Suzuki repertoire.) But I also make sure to not always play along or accompany so that I can make careful observations or be there to help shape a hand as they go sometimes.

I actually had a student disolve in tears yesterday because my playing along (same part, not accompaniment) was mixing him up, though my intention, of course, was to help him! So, I guess we need to be sensitive to what works best for each student!

Because I don’t play the piano, I use the Cello Ensembles books for the 2nd part to accompany the Suzuki repertoire. It seems that my students are more sensitive to intonation issues when they hear their part against the accompaniment—as long as they are at a point where they mostly play in tune.

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Lindsay said: Nov 28, 2009
Lindsay LogsdonViolin
55 posts

I’ve had teachers who demonstrated a lot and teachers who never touched their own instrument, and always felt I was getting so much more from those who demonstrated.

When I teach, I always have my violin out and play with my students perhaps 60-70% of the time. I demonstrate frequently as well.

Lindsay—Violin teacher, homeschooling mama of four, small-time publisher

said: Feb 8, 2010
 1 posts

I am a beginning only teacher, and I play with students about 50%. I think it is crucial to watch and catch positional errors as quickly as possible, as habits can form overnight it seems.

I am also still taking lessons at a more advanced level and my teacher rarely plays with me. She occasionally plays harmony, or shows an articulation for me.

Hope this helps,


Ruth Brons said: Mar 18, 2010
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

I am a firm believer in trying to cover all the bases.

I love to play, so I do end up playing my violin or viola along with students, especially intermediate students, quite a bit.

In teacher training, Kay Sloan reminded us to be sure to play on the student’s instruments. So I try to remember to do so, to not only demonstrate what sounds are possible, but also to check that the instrument is indeed playable!

If I do my best to clunk along on the parts, although as the books get more advanced I become a bass line specialist—but it is a great way to lend rhythmic and harmonic support.

I have SmartMusic accompany my students, which is so wonderful because of the record feature that let’s the students really hear what they played.

And sometimes, not very often, I deliberately don’t even bring my violin into the studio so I can just sit and really listen and really watch. My students know to have their best form going on on those days!

Ruth Brons
Inventor of Things 4 Strings[tm] Instant Bow Hold Accessories:
Bow Hold Buddies[tm] for Violin/Viola, and CelloPhant[tm] for Cello

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