Should I look for another teacher?

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said: Nov 2, 2009
 2 posts

Hi I have a son who is almost 8 and finished with book 1 starting book 2 violin. We have had the same teacher since twinkle when he was 5. We attend a large institute suzuki program with group classes and theory and lots of playing opportunites in the year. WE love the institute. However I don’t beleive the teacher and my son are a good fit for each other and never have been. I am torn as to what to do.

Here is the issue:

Son can be fidgety and has trouble at times following instructions after 5-8 minutes of playing and focusing. This has been an issue since the beginning and drives our teacher up the wall. He becomes very pushy and demanding and will nto lighten up the mood by switching activities etc. In other words he teaches my son like he is an older kid who can focus non stop for 30 mins. Very rarely are there games and things to break it up. On presenting a new concept he will expect my son to play through it correctly after one or two repetions…he will let my son flounder (last set of slurs in gavotte were tripping him up a few weeks back) and instead of helping he will criticize him for not focusing. Then he will show him how to do something and when son is struggling mentally he will start picking on him for not focusing again! This being negative while teaching and not focusing on what son does well while being encouraging is a trademark of our teacher’s teaching style. Other parents have complained to me about it too.

The good thing has been that my son plays well and with good tone and is a strong player. BUT as a parent I am getting tired of this dynamic and I think in the long run it makes my son not like to play violin. He already resists practicing and says he dreads going to lessons. He loves violin and classical music so that is the good part. But the lessons get very painful for me to sit through and I think my son is inept and therefore as a parent I must be too!

The issue is that I think our teacher does not know how to communicate or motivate a young child except by being pushy, negative or intimidating. He is very stingy with praise or acknowledgments. I don;t beleive a child should be praised for every thing but if a child has tried hard and worked at something sincerely regardless of the outcome I think an acknowledgment is deserved. My son does not believe he can do things in violin in part bc our teacher’s attitude is never positive and he thinks he is going to disappoint his teacher and so he goes to his lesson and plays worse than at home!

Over the summer we had the opportunity to go to a summer suzuki institute and my son had a wonderful time. The teachers were exceptional and for the first time I saw what a difference a teacher with a different, more playful/humoring temperament did for my son. He was more compliant, willing to try something new bc he was not going to be criticized and felt good at the end of each master class. I want this kind of teacher for my son.

I don’t want to leave the institute but there is no option in switching teachers here. I have had some discussions with the present teacher about his teaching style but I am very intimidated by him and cannot be very honest. He is an immigrant from another country and perhaps that explains his cultural difference to teaching children? My son is very early in book 2…this might be a good moving point for him? How do I handle this situation? I have talked to the director of the institute and she could do nothing for us other than telling us that this teacher comes with many achievements under his belt and is an exceptional musician and we are lucky to have him be our teacher. FYI We were assingned this teacher when we came to the institute…we did not get to choose!

Should I stick it out or look for someone else?

Connie Sunday said: Nov 3, 2009
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Hi Alice:

I think that any time an individual has a “feeling” about something, that they need to pay attention to that feeling, and not disregard it. You feel your son needs a different teacher. Why not go outside the Suzuki group and find a good, private teacher? You disregard your own intuitions at your peril, IMO.

I might get into trouble in some venues for saying this (perhaps?), but I find it troubling when I encounter a student who has spent three years on book 1. I find that wildly inappropriate and think it verges if not converges on child abuse.

There are plenty of good, private teachers who use the beloved, child-centered philosophy of Suzuki, and yet are very talented teachers who inspire students and have students who make great progress. I’d look around and see what you can find.

Warmest regards,
Connie

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:
http://beststudentviolins.com/library.html#handouts

said: Nov 3, 2009
 2 posts

Connie
Thank you so much for responding. I find it interesting that you think 3 years is a very long time to spend on book 1. Part of our low motivation and discouragement at times has been that we seem to make such slow progress and it’s “boring” to my son. Our teacher is a stickler and does not see it that way. Right now my son can play any song in book 1 well with no hesitation and with confidence…good intonation and articulation but does have a somewhat squeezing left hand…espcially if he has played more than 3-4 songs in a row. Our teacher does not think my son is ready to “pass” book 1 yet bc he says his technique deteriorates after a few minutes. But he is 7! It’s things like this that really bewilder me.

Lynn said: Nov 3, 2009
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

“Many achievements” and “exceptional musician” and all may look good in the Institute’s promotional material…but I’ll bet it doesn’t mean much to an 7yo who is having a decidedly different experience. I’m sorry your director would rather be impressed by a teacher than address a parent’s legitimate concerns. I’d worry about what kind of negative messages about himself your son is absorbing along with his violin lessons. Your instincts are sound, and there are teachers who can give your son a positive and healthy experience.

Lynn said: Nov 3, 2009
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

mshikibu

I might get into trouble in some venues for saying this (perhaps?), but I find it troubling when I encounter a student who has spent three years on book 1. I find that wildly inappropriate and think it verges if not converges on child abuse.

Ummm. ‘child abuse’ is maybe a bit strong. I’ve had quite a few students take that long to get through book 1, and the reasons were quite varied. Also had quite a few zip through in less than a year. Had quite a few somewhere in between, too. Whatever. Not a race, no deadlines. They all worked hard, they all learned, they all got to make music.

Connie Sunday said: Nov 4, 2009
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Lucy, I’m very sorry, but respectfully, I take issue with that. Three years is too long (IMO) for the normal, average child to remain in the first book.

Now, let me add a caveat; if you supplement the Suzuki book with other materials such as Bags of Tunes or I Know a Fox with Dirty Sox, than okay. And lots of handouts and games, okay. But just the pieces in the Suzuki book (which stop being “songs” at the Minuets, I think) alone? I don’t think that’s a good thing.

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:
http://beststudentviolins.com/library.html#handouts

Laura said: Nov 4, 2009
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

I also believe that three years is on the long side for completing Book 1. However, there can be many reasons why, so I would reserve judgement in most cases without knowing the entire story. For example, I have had students take 3 years to complete Book 1, but all of these were “special” cases with a perfectly logical explanation for why it has taken so long. (I didn’t say that the explanations were “acceptable”, mind you, only “logical”)

I agree that it is not a race and that each child learns at his own pace. Starting age and degree of natural interest/ability are probably the biggest variables. But assuming good teaching, good practicing, good parental support, and regular listening, the pace usually falls between 1-2 years.

Your statements that your son plays well and that he actually enjoys his music are the key for me. There seem to be few problems with motivation, interest, or discipline—which are the usual factors why things drag out. So I would be inclined to question the teaching approach, based on your description.

If your gut feeling is that there is a poor connection between the teacher and your son that actually affects how your son feels about his music in the long run, that would be reason enough for me to want to switch teachers. There are many teachers out there with star credentials, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are able to relate to every single student. The younger the student, the more that statement applies.

Yes, it is important to learn things properly, and if your son’s teacher has a strict background he may naturally enforce the same standards on his students. But if there is no personal connection, this is challenging. For me, Book 1-2 Suzuki is too early to be “that” serious in one’s teaching approach. There are many ways to get the same key points across in a more child-friendly manner. If your son doesn’t ever have a reason to smile during his lesson, I’d be concerned.

Sarah said: Nov 5, 2009
 Violin
11 posts

I take issue with three years being too long in book 1. My eldest spent four years in book 1. He started when he was four. We never felt bored, we never felt held back and we really enjoyed lessons, practices, and group class. We had a fabulous Suzuki teacher who did some of her training with Dr. Suzuki. She was always able to keep my boys completely engaged.

I love what Teaching from the Balance Point says about priorities—teaching new notes and bowings is the last priority. It took me a while to get out of the mentality that progress is equated with how many songs one can play—eventually I came to realize that progress encompasses so much more.

Last year we had a different teacher (our teacher retired) and my son zoomed through book 2 in one year. I could see that some of the attention to detail was lacking—when you’re learning that amount of material in one year something has to give and now we’re dealing that. I feel like we have so much to work with right now—going through that fast has meant that his songs are not all polished. He has some intonation issues to work on and he wants to play too fast. Plus we could really get more into the dynamics of the songs. We just need more time and more instruction—not more songs.

Our new teacher this year (the one we had last year went back to school) is fabulous and has the kind of attention to detail that (I think) can only be developed by teaching for decades. She has witnessed what happens when a student slides by with a bad habit or two and so she teachers carefully to prevent students from picking up those bad habits in the first place. I am more than willing to put in the time that it takes to develop beautiful playing and I really don’t care if we learn a single new song this year. Progress is not how many songs you can play.

I watched one of her students play a late book 2/early book 3 piece (I can’t for the life of me remember what piece it was). He played amazingly; like a professional. The piece was so, so beautiful. I had never heard a ten year old play like that before. That’s what I want for my kids. I’ve heard lots of kids play book 4 and 5 pieces passably, or even nicely, but that’s not what we’re looking for.

FWIW, I think learning violin can be incredibly exciting and fun and motivating even when a child spends a long time in one book. I think it’s the teacher that makes a difference and makes it worthwhile. And in the OP’s case I would definitely switch teachers. I have really appreciated my Suzuki teachers when it comes to engaging the attention of my small boys (I’ve had three boys do violin).

Laura said: Nov 5, 2009
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

I also agree with you, SarahCB. I should clarify my earlier post in which I said that many undesirable reasons exist as to why a student many take “longer” to finish a book, not all of them desirable reasons. Further to that, I completely agree that any approach that focuses on building the most solid foundation is a highly desirable way to learn.

According to Suzuki philosophy, we respect the child’s pace. However, that pace includes how they are perceiving their own progress. As long as they are enjoying where they are, that is wonderful. If they are not, there are several factors to consider, different in every situation. In the original poster’s case, it really seems as if the teacher/student relationship is not a good fit. Unless it’s a situation of poor student behavior or attitude (which doesn’t seem the case here), no student should ever be left to feel miserable, criticized, or negative about something they they fundamentally enjoy.

A a teacher, I experience all permutations in how the students learn:

  • fast and properly
  • fast with little regard for details
  • slow and properly
  • slow and struggling with the details

… and then everything inbetween! I don’t even compare my OWN students in terms of what piece they are on, or how long it has taken them to get there, because there is too much variation.

I have learned that I cannot teach according to just one of these ways, until that time when I only choose to accept certain types of students and/or parents. Whenever in doubt, I err on the side of keeping the student engaged and interested.

Ideally, I would like all of my students to learn “properly”, at whatever pace is necessary to achieve that. Unfortunately, i cannot control the extent to which every student and parent will prioritize each point in the same way I do, even if I emphasize it until i’m blue in the face. I therefore have some students who play “very well”, and others less so—but they are still willing to practice and learn, and that is my goal. (Indeed, I have sometimes had to wait until book 2 or 3 before a student will finally learn “properly”, at which time they are actually perfectly willing to go back to Book 1 pieces to reinforce a certain technique that they weren’t so keen about while in Book 1. If that’s what it takes to maintain a happy heart, so be it.)

For most of my students, I can be extremely adamant about certain expecatations before moving to the next piece. But for others, if I held to the same criteria, they would be stuck on the same piece for the next two years, which would cause other problems altogether! We must pick our battles.

Connie Sunday said: Nov 7, 2009
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
667 posts

Am I wrong about this? It wouldn’t be the first time I’m wrong about something. I do think the advice about having mom listen to her intuition is correct. But regarding three years on book 1; if the child starts at age four, it does make sense.

I’m in a university community, so I’ve started a couple of four year olds, but then parents graduated and went back to Korea or wherever. Several others I started were really bright kids whose parents were academics and totally into the “mom (and dad) are the home teachers,” with a strong understanding of the underlying principles. So their progress was much faster than average, I think it’s safe to say. In each of these three cases, the child took violin and piano with me, their progress was remarkable, and they play like little adults. One child, at age four, was the youngest member ever in a local youth symphony. She could read music.

My focus is exceptional students; one student of mine, for the last five years, their exceptionality is that they’re autistic, but brilliant pianist. I’m more into coaching intermediate and advanced students who have already had the advantage of a good, basic teacher. I want to coach students through the etude literature, concertos and chamber music. I especially love chamber music coaching.

So as they say on the ‘net: YMMV (your mileage may vary)

Free Handouts for Music Teachers & Students:
http://beststudentviolins.com/library.html#handouts

Ami said: Nov 22, 2009
Ami RabinowitzViola, Violin
Beaufort, SC
1 posts

Hi there,
I am the parent of 3 girls who had each been spending a good part of their music education under the Suzuki method and a heck good deal of money as well as putting large percentage of their own young lives into it. Following my three daughters’ musical path well into adulthood, more than 12 years after starting our way down (or up) that road, I can whole-heartedly write down my thoughts and conclusions at least as good as the next pro can if not better than anybody else, no matter how immersed they may be in music in general or in the Suzuki method in particular. Quite naturally my response here will not and cannot elaborate all aspects nor can it detail all of our experiences with teachers from the Suzuki Method and other approaches, but I’ll try to outline at least some guidelines regarding the question which may be life-altering for some, how to chose the right teacher of any instrument.
First thing off, take a good look into the credentials of the teacher. They should be able to show you at least some sort of a graduate diploma from a university-level or an equivalent school of music or conservatory. If they cannot or are reluctant to show you the actual diploma or if you feel uncomfortable being too picky, they should at least be able to provide you with some decent names of their own teachers or the institutes and classes they’re claiming to have attended. Note that some Suzuki teachers (and in other approaches) have not at all graduated from an accredited graduate school of music or the equivalent of. Some have just completed partial studies and went on to attain the necessary Teacher Training to join the Suzuki ranks. These won’t discredit them but you should be aware of their level of learning and know where they’re coming from.
Secondly, the teacher should be able to demonstrate some dSecondly, the teacher should be able to demonstrate some decent performance ability and to produce a decent tonality, good intonation as an absolute minimum (more on the latter later on) and a good feeling of the music he or she is producing. Keep in mind that a good teacher (at least for the younger ages) is not necessarily the better performer, but they cannot afford to sound to the untrained ear much worse than what that ear can bear. I’ve attended some of the best (entry-level) teachers literally in this continent giving quite mediocre stage performances so maybe we should impose 2 conditions on this aspect (the second of which comes as article 3 below):
If the teachers can present at least some excellent past-teaching credentials as per the results that his or her students had attained as STAGE performers (not as “theoretical” musicians or even composers – that’s a very different story!!! We’re talking performance here rather than anything else) then you don’t really care these teachers’ actual level of performance.
So here we come to the third article which may be the most important in some cases but requires the teacher has a career span of probably no less than 10 years, otherwise they cannot in reality provide such credentials:
Show me your ability at producing real results. That is, tell me about students of yours who had achieved material results as music PERFORMERS. These can include students winning music competitions at least on the local (town/city) level, preferably regional or national level(s). Or a past student (at least one, preferably more) attending, or having graduated from, a major or near-major music performance school not important where on earth. Or otherwise having a past student appearing as an achieved soloist on public stages where people pay to watch them or past students who became members of a professional orchestra or ensemble of sorts.
Of course, if the teacher herself can demonstrate a proven track record playing at a professional orchestra or ensemble (NOT a Jazz band or a bar/resto or in any amateur orchestra or ensemble, for that end!), then they’re good enough for you to start with and to guide your child into a better musical future, be it as an amateur who simply can enjoy playing good music or to conduct a fully-fledged professional life as a musician.
The fourth element comes from your child: he or she should show some sort of enthusiasm going to their lessons with their teacher. If the child is sort of “suffering” or is showing a lack of enthusiasm meeting their teacher for a prolonged period of time, I am not talking here about their individual home practice which they may dislike – that’s rather natural for most part, but about meeting the teacher, or if they are expressing any type of discord about the what’s or how-to’s of their learning (i.e. the method used to teach them or the interaction they have with their teacher) again over some period of time, then reconsider that teacher and start to ask questions about that teacher’s credibility as a teacher for your child. The teacher may still be a wonderful person but not the appropriate guide for growing up your child musically.
The last and probably most important element is the INSPIRATION that the teacher is giving your child or other children in his studio or in the group lessons. You can easily tell the atmosphere projected by the teacher; it needs to be present, always, in the air at some point of the teaching process. Maybe it’s absent at certain parts of the lesson(s) or not present 100% of the time but it is there for enough time for anyone to feel, be it your own child, other children in his group, the studio orchestra, or you can sense it via the other parents around you. In short, once it’s there, you cannot miss it. If it’s not there in the open, you won’t find it unless you’re trying to convince yourself otherwise or in other words cheat yourself and your child out of the world of proper music playing, eyes wide shut.
Some practical advices for how to find out more about your child’s teacher’s abilities or to locate a good teacher:
1. Ask about the teacher of your choice in musical circles of his or her specific instrument. Speak with their teaching peers and try to collect any sign of reluctance or enthusiasm. Address in person – if there is any – an academic-level music teaching institute in your region, speak with the PERFORMANCE teachers there of your child’s instrument and see if any of them ever heard of that teacher. If the teacher comes from another, remote geographical region, take a deep-level inquisitorial search into where they claim they come from and compare. Ask questions; don’t be shy. If the teacher’s history is a favourable one, they’ll be glad to share at least some good personal past info with you, also about colleagues and experiences. This may be an on-going process for some time during which your child is taking her lessons from that teacher. In practice this can take some decent amount of time and you do not want to deprive your child of music education for a lengthy period unless the teacher is really bad which may be the case.
2. Attend local and regional music festivals in fields related to your child’s instrument where they play classical music, go to music competitions held mostly during early-to-late spring. Watch for the performers getting not necessarily the top marks but also for those getting around 80 or the equivalent. Check out who their teachers are (or used to be) and go for them, even if they are not Suzuki teachers. This is a sure hit. You won’t find slacking teachers’ students in most competitions! And at least you’ll be able to hit some really good teachers there.
3. Attend public concerts of some professional orchestras and youth orchestras in your region. In the professional orchestras, read attentively the orchestra’s members’ names in the concert program. Then go back-stage after the performance as they pack up and speak with one or two (most of them will be rushing home so you won’t be able to speak with more than one, mostly two, anyway), check their availability. If they don’t give lessons or do not teach beginners then they’ll address you to a reasonably good teacher to start with, at least, if not to the ultimate teaching authority around. Any musician playing in a professional-level orchestra should be more than fit, and a better bet than most others around, to give a proper start-up for your child.
4. If there is a well-known music conservatory around, check their list of teachers, contact them and attend their lessons. Most conservatories tend to work with reasonably good teachers but you can have bad surprises as well. Same goes with the Suzuki method, I believe. Don’t take it for granted that the Method or the Conservatory will protect you against bad or mediocre teachers, they’re just the middleman here promoting their own reputation and existence like any other organization on earth. Conduct the same series of above steps before or after choosing your preferable teacher. The process is on-going and should stop only once you’re utterly convinced that you’ve made the best possible choice for your child. Stay attuned and alert for any signs that this teacher may be turning to be a lesser choice for your child due to any reason, be it your child, the teacher going under some personal or professional transformations or the changing times, which may happen after several years with the same teacher.

MaryLou Roberts said: Dec 17, 2009
MaryLou RobertsTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Guitar
Ann Arbor, MI
244 posts

Hi, Maybe you have already made your decision, but I would like to offer another idea. If you feel that cultural differences, along with a too serious attitutde are part of what you are dealing with, you can let the teacher know how the week went for practicing at home as a way to talk. It is good to communicate what was hard, and what you tried. The teacher needs to learn, and as part of the Suzuki triangle, parents are a valuable resource into the lives of their child. The parent needs to let the teacher know how the child is doing.

Then, while you are figuring the out, find games at home that your child likes. Talk well of the teacher to your child, so that he feels valued. I am the best teacher to the students who tell me how much they appreciate the lessons. If your child is having a hard time focusing, play the CD more at home, doing some active listening activity, like playing catch, jumping to the beat, make up words to the songs; just have fun, then practice. So I guess strengthen your part of the triangle, and see what happens. If you end up with the same decision, then act. Then the teacher will know why, and learn.

said: Dec 24, 2009
 4 posts

We used to go a suzuki piano teacher- very experienced and talented but she really believed in proper technique and kids ages 6-8 would take an average of 4 yrs for book 1.
Somehow I felt that was way too long as there is no enjoyment in playing the same song for 3-4 months. There is only a certain extent of perfection you can expect in any song at this age and it would come of course with lots of practice but u need to move ahead and learn other songs as well, it was hitting us financially too, I already spent $1600 just in twinkles!!
Since we moved to another teacher who goes at a faster pace my daughter’s interest has increased, ofcourse we still pay attention to the technique and other factors.

Laura said: Jan 26, 2010
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

My gut reaction is that 4 years for Book 1 for 6-8 years old IS too long, if the only reason is because of mastering technique. Of course (as mentioned above in many places) there can be many reasons why certain individual students need to take that amount of time. But since you mention that this is average in one teacher’s studio and that most students don’t enjoy the process, that would be a red flag for me.

Yes, technique is extremely important. Personally, I just like to know that if a student hasn’t mastered all technique taught so far, then there is evidence that it is being paid attention to and improving. Some things really do take time, but it’s usually obvious if it’s clearly on the radar or not.

I will stall things if students (or parents) are clearly stubborn or neglectful over one particular technical point. However, in such a case, a simple carrot or stick approach usually helps them finally decide to improve it. (For example, when you can show me at the NEXT LESSON that your thumb is in the right shape, we will start learning the next piece!) But it can be a little too far-fetched to require “complete” technical mastery (to what level anyway?) before moving onto another piece of another book. There always needs to be something to improve over review!

Something to poinder: apparently Dr. Suzuki could tell what book a student was studying by the way in which the student played Twinkles. In other words, techinque and musicality continue to develop over the years.

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