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This question was posed by a violin teacher whose student wanted to quit after a handful of lessons. Do we just let our student go in these instances, or should we try to encourage them to stick it out a little longer?

Students of all ages have the right to take a few violin lessons and decide it's not for them. However, reasons for quitting is can vary for children versus teens and adults. While anyone can realize that violin playing is going to take a lot more effort and dedication than they have to devote, children, with less experience overcoming adversity, are more likely to let intimidation, or just feeling like it's not going to be as fun as they'd hoped, lead them to want to quit. On the other hand, most adults start lessons knowing that learning to play is going to have challenges, so instead they might quit because they realize they don't have enough time to reach the level they'd like to achieve within a reasonable time frame. Teens as well, often quit when they realize that school and sports are demanding all of their energy and attention and they won't have enough time to practice.

In general, a handful of lessons isn't a very substantial trial for learning a new instrument. The violin family instruments have a particularly steep learning curve in the beginning and it can take that long to start feeling comfortable holding the instrument and bow and playing with decent tone on open strings. Students might arrive with dreams of playing certain pieces, so we should set reasonable expectations with a beginning student, yet encourage their goals and describe the steps we'll help them take to achieve them.

A handful of lessons does feel like a reasonable trial with a new teacher however, and if the style and personalities aren't a fit, a student could quit. They might tell us they're quitting the instrument, yet continue on with a different teacher. Or, though unfortunate, they may lump together the idea of playing the instrument and their experience with the teacher, discarding both.

Either way, we can't force a student to keep playing their instrument and taking lessons with us. Especially if we suspect it's because they've reached a rough patch that everyone experiences, we can try to convince them to keep going, but unless they were practicing, seeing results, and seemingly loving it, it might be best to just let them go and open ourselves up to a new student who will LOVE violin and LOVE taking lessons with us. As important as it is to teach kids to take on challenges and learn to power through when something seems difficult, trying to make someone love doing something they'll have to devote a considerable portion of their lives to, when they could be out discovering what they really love, doesn't seem fair either.

All that said, it's good to get more information, at the very least so we don't take it personally and keep wondering what we could have done differently. Maybe the violin is out-of-tune all the time at home, they don't have help, and they spend all their practice time trying to figure out how to tune it on their own? Maybe the chinrest hurts. Maybe a partner, their parents, or their siblings or roommates are making them feel bad, asking things like "Why do you sound so squeaky? Can't you make that thing sound beautiful?"

Or maybe an adult student or the student's parents are realizing how many years of lessons they'll have to pay for and pulling the plug? Maybe an adult student or the student's parents are frazzled with full time careers and three kids doing 12 after-school activities every week? Maybe the student's parents are threatening them - "If you don't practice for half an hour right now we're canceling lessons. What's it going to be?"

And again, it's also possible we're just not the right teacher for them, or lessons aren't the right fit right now. Losing a student hurts, but in my experience, after the initial disappointment and worries about loss of income fades, if it really wasn't a good fit, we often feel relieved. We know it was the right call. Further confirmation usually comes for me within a day or two, if not within the hour, when a new student's lesson inquiry lands in my inbox.

Friday May 3rd, 2024
Monday April 15th, 2024

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Laurel Thomsen

Violin, Viola, Vocals
Performance, Instruction, Recording

Based in Santa Cruz, California

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