What to look for in a great violin teacher
Elsewhere on this site I strongly recommend getting a violin teacher, rather than trying to teach yourself. You may ask however, what do I look for in a good violin teacher?
I have had 4 violin teachers myself over the years, in addition to watching my youngest daughters teacher at work. They have ranged from uninspiring to fantastic, so here's my run down on what I have found to make a good violin teacher (and for that matter, a good music teacher of any sort)
Music is fun and exciting. A good violin teacher ought to reflect that. Enthusiasm doesn't have to mean highly outgoing and vivacious, but they ought to be able to convey that they enjoy what they are doing. Of course you, or your child can do you bit to encourage this by practicing regularly, and showing that you are interested too!
Encouraging, but realistic.
This is going to be more important for younger students, but lets be honest, we all are going to respond to a bit of praise – and feel a bit put down by being told that our playing was awful. When you or your child come to play for a teacher, you want to feel relaxed, rather than defensive. The flip side of that coin is that you also need a teacher to be honest. There is no point sailing through life with an overinflated view of your own prowess, because one day you are going to be shipwrecked on the harsh rock of reality!
Draws on a range of material.
Guess what? Learning an instrument is more than a succession of music exams once a year. To become good at an instrument, and particularly to develop a good technique on the violin, you need far more than just the material needed to pass some exam.
Teaches good technique right from the start.
At the beginning, you can produce reasonable sounds with incredibly sloppy technique. You will pay dearly for this later if it is not corrected at the start. You don't want to drown a child in technical detail, but even a five year old can have one or two points worked on each week (e.g. avoiding the 'death grip' in the left hand, a nice bow hold in the right hand, nice straight bowing, using the whole bow where called for, intonation and so on)
Shows you how to fix the things that need improving.
Anyone who calls themselves a violin teacher is going to be able to point out what you need to improve. But far fewer can show you how to improve. Its all very well saying you need stronger vibrato – thats not very useful without being shown how to go about improving it.
Teaches you how to practice.
This sort of overlaps with showing you how to fix what needs improving, but practice needs to be far more than mindlessly running through this weeks scales and pieces a few times. A good teacher ought to be able to set you pieces and exercises with clear goals as to what they are for, and teach you how to be focused about what you are doing. See also my 'practice tips' page for more detail. Finally a relevant quote from Galamian (a leading violin pedagogue of the 20th Century) in his book 'Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching', chapter four,
“One of the most important things that a teacher ought to teach his students, is, therefore, the technique of good practice”
“A teacher who limits himself to pointing out the mistakes and does not show the proper way to overcome them fails in the important mission of teaching the student how to work for himself.”
Sometimes it may just come down to certain personalities suiting you better than other. A personality that suits a child learning, may not be what an adult learner wants. An adult learner will want to ask more questions and have more say in what they play and practice – not every violin teacher is necessarily going to fit in with this. A no nonsense, focused teacher may be just what a serious student wants, but would not necessarily suit a beginner or young child.
For students looking at a professional career there are a couple of other points to bear in mind.
Have a look at (and listen to) the teachers other students. How many professional students have they produced?If you are looking to go professional, learning will have to be a little less sugar coated. Face it now, learning to be a professional violinist is hard work, and you are going to need to knuckle down and have a solidly realistic grasp of where you are at.