Should I change the teacher?


said: Apr 6, 2009
 2 posts

My 6-year old daughter started Suzuki violin when she was 19 months old. Naturally, when she started, it was more of playing games with her teacher and her classmates with a toy violin, a toy bow and some other musical game tools. We were lucky to find the wonderful Suzuki-trained teacher (Catherine in Portland, OR, thanks Catherine!) and a group of children and their parents who were genuinely interested in learning violin while having fun. Then we had to move to the East Coast when she was five and stopped playing for a year. Luckily, we found another great Suzuki-trained violin teacher and my daughter resumed playing violin and happy with the teacher. So was I.

Then we moved to another place on the East Coast where a nearest available Suzuki-trained violin teacher lives 40 miles away from us. So, we compromised and started taking lessons from a person who is affiliated with the music store where we rented our violin. We’ve been with this new teacher for about 6 months now and I’m still not sure if it’s in my daughter’s best interest to stay with her.

First off, this new teacher is not Suzuki-trained and so, her teaching style is totally different from our previous two. She lets my daughter rely more on reading notes than trust my daughter’s ears to play notes. I thought the whole point of learning violin through Suzuki method is to learn the songs by listening to them. And that’s why I played the CD for my daughter whenever I can.

Second, for some reasons that were not explained to either my daughter or myself, the teacher did not move my daughter to Perpetual Motion from Allegro for a long time. I know my daughter was not perfect in playing Allegro but with the previous teachers, we were able to learn some pieces of a new song when she got a hang of the old song, or if it had been a while that my daughter had learned the old song and could play it ok.

Third, she does not give me any instructions/advice for practicing at home and I am clueless as to how to encourage my child to practice more to improve her weaknesses and how to motivate my daughter when she gets bored. I get frustrated when my daughter gets frustrated when her fingers touch wrong spots on the fingerboard and sometimes, I cannot control myself and yell at my daughter who makes same mistakes, which I know she doesn’t do it on purpose.

And of course, we don’t have group lessons, quarterly or semi-annual recitals and other events that we used to enjoy.

My daughter enjoys playing violin overall and even after being shouted at by me and much crying, she does not want to quit. I do not want home practice to be a hellish experience for her but I really need some guidance from a Suzuki teacher and parents. I did read more than five books on how to help your Suzuki learner child practice better at home. The books are very helpful but I must say, books can be helpful only so much.

So please, Suzuki teachers and parents out there, should I change the teacher and drive 40 miles once every week, which I’m more than willing to do? Or, should I stay with my current teacher because the physical toll of driving a 6-year old for 40 miles for a half hour lesson during a week day can be too much? Appreciate any advice and insight.

Jennifer Visick said: Apr 6, 2009
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
1069 posts

40 miles is a long drive for a 6 year old….

You may want to check out other non-Suzuki teachers who are closer to you. Some “traditional” teachers are a lot closer to Suzuki philosophy than what you’ve described. You might get lucky.

On the other hand, if you’re willing to drive the distance, and can make a day—or at least a half day—of the lesson day, it might work.

Lynn said: Apr 7, 2009
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

I have families in my studio who drive a distance to come to me—for lessons, again for weekly group class, and whenever there are recitals or other events. People do it! Car rides are great for listening to music, not just the Suzuki CD, but other classical music, conversations about what just took place in the lesson, or what was accomplished or what was hard during practice that you want to tell the teacher about….mothers tell me they value the long car rides, because of the opportunity to be with and talk with their son or daughter. One Mom said “that’s where all the big stuff comes out”.

My general recommendation about choosing a teacher, any teacher, is to find out about the teacher before committing. What is their training/background/experience teaching, and teaching young children, are they lessons only, or do they also have classes and recitals, how do they work with parents—do they work with parents? Especially if you are talking to a non-Suzuki teacher, many do not include parents in the process, and specifically don’t want them involved. You’d have to decide if that’s going to work for your daughter, or if she still really needs your active participation in her practice. If you’re not involved, how does the teacher structure assignments so that a 6yo can practice effectively on her own? Can you go observe lessons, or can you have a trial lesson with the teacher? How does the teacher work with and engage the student? How does the student respond? Do they show progress in the lesson? Does the studio “feel” like a place where you and your daughter can work comfortably? You have had two very good experiences so far, to compare to. How do the teacher’s students play? How old/advanced are her oldest/most advanced students? Etc.

As Jenny suggested, there are excellent non-Suzuki teachers “out there”; conversely, being a “Suzuki teacher” is not by its self a guarantee that a particular studio will be the best match for you. In the long run, what’s going to have the bigger impact on her growth as a violinist is not how the teacher classifies herself, or her specific approach to teaching, but the quality of the overall experience.

said: Apr 7, 2009
 89 posts

You’ve gotten good advice already. It is a long drive for a small child but if after investigating the options it seems like you need to make that decision, here’s what has worked for us on our 50-60 minute drive to music lessons.

Special “car” music—not just the suzuki CD which is usually on anyway, but audio biographies of composers (there are some great story ones like Beethoven Lives Upstairs), “real” music (we’ve done composer-of-the-month kinds of things), music related games (quiz questions are fun, like “who wrote Long Long Ago?”) or Name That Tune (put the suzuki CD on shuffle), just for fun music like Beethoven’s Wig (be careful with this one or the wacky lyrics will get stuck in your head!).

Special activity only done on lesson day—for us, it was Dunkin Donuts. Did you know you can buy a single donut hole? :D It’s a good opportunity to get out and stretch before the lesson. We’ve also had a period where we stopped at a park near the music school and fed the ducks on the way home.

Do everything you can to get the private lesson and the group class scheduled on the same day with a break in between. It’s a longer day for the child but not as long as having to make the car trip twice.

Make sure the teacher knows how long your drive is so that you can get a call at home in time if the lesson is ever cancelled suddenly.

The car ride gets easier as the child gets older. Good luck finding the right teacher in the right location!

said: Apr 7, 2009
 2 posts

Thank you so much for your wonderful replies, RaineJen, Lucy and Wonky. I really appreciate them.

I did try to find a traditional violin teacher who could be a better fit for my daughter before starting a private lesson with the current teacher. In fact, this teacher, although she is not a trained Suzuki teacher, learned violin herself through Suzuki method (for some years) and had most experience with young children. She is a nice person and tries to accommodate many of our requests (e.g., I can observe the lesson etc.). But I now feel like we need to move on.

The ideas you ladies gave me help me have a good picture as to how and what I need to look for when I research for a new teacher. I’m also getting some more books just for myself so that I can help my daughter have a better experience when practicing at home.

Thanks again and I will keep you posted! :D

said: Jul 4, 2009
 2 posts

I think that the most important thing is for your daughter to learn the love of music. Staying on Allegro for a long time was probably frustrating for her if the teacher wasn’t giving her small easily attainable goals. As a teacher, it’s my experience that the children who feel like they play well are the ones who continue with their violin study. Without specific instructions for practice it must make your child feel discouraged. I think you would probably be better off with someone that has more experience motivating young children. In my studio we use practice games, dice, spinners etc. to isolate small things. It keeps it fun for the kids, helps to develop good practice habits, and fosters a positive environment during practice so that it can be enjoyable for child and parent.

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