The Strad – Adult rope students bring unique challenges that can be very rewarding

This is an excerpt from a longer article from the March 2018 issue of The Strad. To read it in full, download the issue now at desktop computer or buy the print edition

I have been teaching the violin to beginners and advanced adults for about 15 years. I find teaching adults very fruitful: articulate, enthusiastic and motivated, they tend to absorb information more easily and quickly than children, and are generally more likely to go home and work on the topics covered in the lesson.

Learning an instrument can open up a whole host of new opportunities: music allows us to express ourselves in new ways, provides opportunities to meet new people, and provides an outlet for creativity. I have taught many adults who started out with no prior musical experience, and who now enjoy playing in amateur orchestras, chamber ensembles and folk groups.

However, teaching adults can be more complex than teaching children. Children generally have lower expectations, are less set in their ways, and (hopefully) don’t yet carry the baggage of ingrained insecurities, echoes of negative voices, or regrets over missed opportunities. As an adult, voluntarily becoming a complete beginner on a technically difficult instrument, and investing time and money in lessons, takes a lot of courage.

A new student may have spent years thinking about starting the violin before finally taking the plunge. As teachers, we need to be sensitive to people’s anxieties, but it’s also important not to let your students’ insecurities dominate the lessons. I try to steer people away from excuses and rationalizations and try (with varying degrees of success) to get them to focus on effective practice and slow, steady work on technique and musicality.

Starting a new instrument is a bit like learning to drive: there are so many things to take into account at the beginning, and it takes time and repetition for everything to become automatic.

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