Choosing And Evaluating Violin Teachers
There is more to playing a violin than simply drawing a bow across a string. Even the fiddlers in America’s Ozarks Mountain know how to coax out the sweetness of a slow waltz such as “Ashokan Farewell” (Jay Ungar, 1982). Violin teachers can help their students do the same, but how do you know you’ve found a good one? Here are a few things to consider:
Is there a waiting list? This is not a guarantee that the teacher is good. He or she just may be cheap. It is, however, a good sign, if everything else looks good.
Is the teacher a performer? Does the teacher play anywhere, preferably with a professional group? If so, this can also give you a chance to see how well the teacher plays.
Listen to the students. Even if the teacher is a great player, that doesn’t always mean they can teach. Listen to the products of their lessons.
What method does the teacher use? Ask what method they teach. They should be ready with a definitive answer explaining what method they use and any variations they may employ. For example, a teacher who uses the Suzuki method might say that they introduce note reading earlier than the pure Suzuki method does.
What kind of vibrato is taught? Ask them what vibrato they teach. This should be an easy one for any good teacher. The choices are arm, wrist, and combination. If they don’t answer, then they have no plan to teach it.
What kind of bow hold is used? If you want to really learn something about the teacher, ask what bow hold they teach. This one will get all but the best. They will likely either answer, “Franco-Belgian,” “Russian,” or “Galamian.”
You should not base your decision on:
Personality. It’s good to like your teacher, but you’re paying them to teach the violin, not to be your friend. Whether they are “mean” or “nice” is also no indicator of quality, but they shouldn’t tear down your self-esteem.
Cost. Expensive teachers aren’t always better teachers. Cheap teachers aren’t always better teachers, either. Get the best teacher you can afford, and don’t let price alone control your decision.
Lesson Length. Long lessons don’t always mean quality lessons. Yes, you need to spend a bit of time with a teacher, but opt for quality over quantity.
Now that you’ve chosen a teacher, how is he or she doing? Here are a few pointers to look for during a lesson:
Demonstration. A good teacher will demonstrate what they want the student to do. They will explain it clearly and will not stop explaining it until the student understands.
Homework. How often does the teacher tell a student to practice at home? Some skills will require home practice, but a teacher who frequently sends a student home to practice until they “get it” is giving up before the student has a complete grasp of the lesson. There are exceptions to this, but be aware of teachers who do this too often.
Follow-up and consistency. Does the teacher consistently follow up from the previous lesson, or do they seem to switch focus from week to week, even before the previous lesson is done? A lack of consistency shows a lack of discipline.
Violin teachers are human beings, and no two are alike. When looking for a teacher, you should always start with personal testimony from your friends or from previous students. Of course, one person may give a glowing review to a teacher while someone else may try to warn you off. The best way to start is to ask, and then to use these guidelines to help you decide which teacher is best for you.