The Care and Feeding of your Violin Teacher
Choosing a violin teacher is an important process in finding the perfect match for your abilities. A good teacher will work with what you have, not engage in a futile attempt to get you to do something uncomfortable. A good teacher will be patient most of the time, but tough when called for. Finally, a good teacher will push you to get better rather than constantly tell you how you failed. Choosing a violin teacher is an article for another time. Below, you will learn how to treat your teacher once you’ve hired him or her.
Be On Time
Well, duh. Being on time for lessons (or for anything else) is extremely important. Many musicians are a little compulsive about lots of things, including time. A good teacher will have several students, usually back-to-back, meaning any student who shows up 10 minutes late messes up the entire afternoon. Beginners usually have 30-minute lessons, so if you shave off 10 minutes, you’ve really reduced the value of the lesson. Parents (or whoever is paying) want the full 30 minutes (or whatever amount of time) for their money. When you pair that with running late, the result is usually pretty awkward.
Pay On Time
Speaking of awkward, let’s talk about payment. Violin teachers (or any other private music teachers) usually charge in one of two ways; per lesson or per month. Each has its advantages and disadvantages:
Per Month Pros
- Charging for 4-5 weeks at a time gives students/parents more motivation to attend lessons regularly instead of cancelling for every soccer practice or baby shower
- For the teacher, the money collection is easier and the deposits fewer and larger
Per Month Cons
- When you have paid for several lessons up front, there is a sense of “owing” lessons. Most teachers also perform so there will occasionally be cancellations. Students are also busy with sports, school, friends, and life so if there are paid-for lessons hanging out there, things can get weird
- Some students/parents would rather not pay for lessons not yet given (pay up front)
One Lesson at a Time Pros
- Payment given for services rendered. Piece ‘o cake.
- Less pressure to schedule lessons
One Lesson at a Time Cons
- Since the teacher is only paid for lessons when they happen, there is less motivation to be there each week
- Teachers will have dozens of checks to deposit and some banks limit the number of deposits (especially for mobile deposits which are super convenient).
Personally, I charge one lesson at a time. I have thought about going to the per-month system, but I perform a lot and I don’t want paid-for lessons hanging out there. Things happen. People get sick, schools have testing, vacations happen, etc. Paying for each lesson as it occurs is, for me, the best way. As a student or parent, you only pay for the services that I have provided.
Speaking of that, please pay at each lesson. Teachers hate keeping track of money owed. “Gee, I forgot my checkbook. Is it OK if I get you next week?” Ugh. I’ll never say no, but it creates a potentially awkward situation when I have to ask for two payments at the next lesson.
Please Show Up
Violin lessons are like any other activity that requires practice and instruction. If you don’t practice or receive instruction regularly, you won’t improve. If you are a runner and you don’t run regularly, you won’t be able to make it through a race. Same goes for violin lessons. Missing one here and there is fine. Having one lesson a month is not. I realize that many students are in school and have responsibilities and other activities, but there needs to be a compromise where you can do everything as often as possible. If you’re not having lessons more than once every two or three weeks, then the money and the teacher’s time are both wasted.
Being prepared involves several things. First, bring your instrument and all of the music you are working on. Not having your music or instrument would be like a plumber showing up to fix your pipes and not having any tools. Both are useless. In today’s world of IMSLP and computers/iPads, I encourage students to put music into one notebook. That way, they have less to remember each week. Not all music fits into a regular 3-ring binder so please keep track and bring it all every time.
Any violin teacher will demand that students practice. Without work at home, lessons are useless. Lessons are where the violin teacher fixes things that students have already worked on, and where they assign new music to learn. Depending on the level of the student, practicing should be anywhere from an hour or two each week to a few hours each day. Again, real life does get in the way sometimes, but most teachers would love it if their students would practice five days each week. Please remember also, we always know if you’ve practiced or not. I was a violin student once too, and I worked almost as hard pretending to practice than actual practicing. I know all the tricks.
Listen, Ask Questions, Write Stuff Down
All students should bring a notebook and pen/pencil with them to lessons. Either that or record lessons on a digital recorder (I used a cassette and a tape recorder – remember those?). A violin teacher will say lots of things that you need to remember so why not write them down? Better to write them in a notebook than on your music also. Nothing frustrates a violin teacher more than a student who went an entire week practicing wrong because they didn’t remember something he said.
Listen and ask questions as well. The entire purpose of a violin teacher in the first place is to help you improve by showing you the right way to practice. If you want to always get it right, make sure everything is clear before you go home. Teachers of all types love when students ask questions. That means they are engaged.
Your violin teacher is just like any other teacher. He or she knows how to teach and knows all the different types of students. Just like in school, your teacher wants students to succeed. Teaming up with parents is how a teacher accomplishes that. Parents, take an active role in your child’s music lessons. You don’t need to know how to play the violin yourself, but if you write down and remember how the teacher wants your child to practice and learn, you can be an enormous help at home between lessons.
You can question your teacher, but he knows best. Obviously if your child comes home every week with bruises or something, then you need to speak up. Failing that, any parent should attend a few lessons to see how the teacher works with students. A good violin teacher will be great with kids and adults alike. There are bad ones too, but with the proper research and discipline once the lessons start, this can be a great relationship.