I've been hesitating to write this as it may come across as controversial or simply as a rant, but it is really affecting my daily life. There was once a section in a magazine titled "what they really think" (or similar) and they asked members of different professions who then revealed some shocking truths about what their real thoughts were behind the professional facade. So this is a bit what a violin teacher really thinks...
I'm wondering what other teachers do with pupils who have no talent or interest in learning the instrument (here: violin) whatsoever and on top never or hardly ever practise at all between lessons, over a year or longer.
The following applies to only a small number of pupils. Generally I do like teaching and find it rewarding, and the vast majority are progressing at least reasonably well, and they pass their exams, many with good marks, play in concerts and some in festivals, some get music scholarships, but then there are those, hmm, difficult pupils.
I don't mean the normally slow learners who don't practise much but still somehow learn something just by attending the lessons and progress very slowly, but talking about extremes here:
Pupils (aged between about 6 and 8, having individual lessons) who can't play a "tune" consisting of, say, 8 bars of just crotchet As (so always the same note, open string, in the very slightly "advanced" cases using maybe 1st and 2nd finger) and some crotchet rests after more than a year of lessons, because they are unable to keep the bow on the string. The bow constantly slips to the wrong string and all over the fingerboard and they say the bow "just doesn't stay" on the correct string.
Of course I make them clap, sing (if they don't refuse), then pluck the tune first, several times (even the pizzicato isn't great and of course not rhythmical), then guide their bow, teach a correct bow hold using bow games, talk about adjusting the bow arm level, having control over the bow, guiding the bow. Tell them they'd guide a pencil and wouldn't allow the pencil to write, say, a "t" if they want to write an "a" etc. All of this doesn't seem to have any effect whatsoever though, they just stare at me blankly.
They stare at me as if the bow has its own will and they are completely powerless and too weak to do anything about it (which in a way, they are, but it seems to me their inner determination to make the bow stay on the correct string is entirely missing). They are like floppy dolls and can't stop the bow when there is a rest, even if they can clap it correctly.
Needless to say, the pupils I'm talking about have no parental support and never or hardly ever practise between lessons. Parents ignore the practice book completely, either leave the violins in school (so obviously pupils can't practise even if they wanted to) or repeatedly "forget" to bring violin and books to school on violin lesson days (I'm inclined not to do the lessons then, especially if it's not a one off thing, but somehow school makes me use school violins or other pupils' instruments in those cases), pupils claim they "never" have time to practise (ever, not just in a particular week or even month), not even 5 minutes once a week apparently.
Emails to parents even about the timetable and when the violin is required in school, that they should buy a new practice book and practise at least sometimes with their children get completely ignored.
I don't think they're too young, having lots of average pupils that age who can play simple tunes around Initial/Prep Test/Grade 1 level somehow and some super talented ones who played around Grade 5-7 standard at the age of 7/8 which are the exception of course, but show it's more down to talent and practice than age.
Another example: A pupil, aged around 13 who luckily can already play something (which is a relief compared to the above), yet, a year after a Grade 1 (strangely passed with distinction!) is unable to play just one Grade 2 piece and one Grade 2 scale in a semi recognisable way. Completely wrong bowings, out of tune by a whole tone, no concept of pitch whatsoever, does not understand the difference between 2nd finger low or high, not even in a purely mechanical way to the point I'm suspecting a learning disability or low IQ (although parents never mentioned this). Posture and bow hold as if I've never explained or corrected it (and I have for the past 2 years in every single lesson). Parent sitting in the lesson, completely ignorant, asking me when child can sit exam?
I'm really surprised when I read that other teachers' pupils don't just do three exam pieces but lots of other repertoire, learn the exam pieces in about 4 weeks and of course none of their pupils have stickers on the fingerboard.
In an ideal world, it would be like this with my pupils. In reality, it is only the case with my talented pupils (or, say, at least average pupils) who practise at least fairly regularly and have at least some parental support, too.
But it's completely unrealistic with the above mentioned "floppy dolls". I'd be glad if they could play anything, even the most basic tune, badly, scratchy, slightly out of tune, but in a recognisable way.(To give you an idea, Stepping Stones and Joggers way, way too hard for them). Yet, the bow is everywhere, all over the place, left handshape as bad as it can get (if they use left hand fingers at all). Do other teachers not have these kinds of pupils - they must do, but what to do with them?
I am really used to the whole spectrum from complete beginners to beyond Grade 8 distinction level and anything in between, but currently I seem to have a bunch of absolutely hopeless ones among them. In the past, these cases just naturally gave up lessons, but these seem to stick around!
It's frustrating because I'm completely fully booked (60 pupils) and have a waiting list of around 20 potential pupils with new enquiries coming in every week plus parents of existing pupils who want their other child to start, and they don't consider another teacher but insist they want to wait until I can offer them a place, even if I say it's unrealistic that something comes up soon. I don't have the heart to tell them that I don't want the sibling if already child 1 is not practising and not very talented (as it does run in families, in my experience). But I guess I should?
Also, I'm not very interested in doing any more remedial work with transfer pupils, namely teenagers who have been messed up (posture wise and generally) by the local Music Service.
I don't know how to get rid of the completely hopeless ones who show no commitment or even a slight interest in the violin whatsoever and are blocking spaces for other, potentially more talented and committed pupils (or is the grass greener and the new ones will be even worse?).
Do you call parents and tell them there is no point continuing lessons? I'm too scared to do that. Do you write carefully worded emails? This may upset people. Give warning that if it doesn't improve over time, the pupil will have to go?
Contrary to common belief based on my experience I don't think everyone can or should learn the violin.
Also, I don't know how to choose new pupils, and yes, I think I should choose them more wisely. But even if trial lesson went well and parents seemed supportive initially, sometimes after about six months it went all downhill. Then there are other pupils who are finding the first lessons really hard then suddenly make excellent progress - but it's those who practise every day.
Do any of you do aptitude tests, if so, in what way? Explain bluntly what is expected of the potential new parents in terms of a minimum amount of practice? That it is not fun unless you find pleasure in boring, repetitive activities with no instant gratification? That when they do the next Grade (or in fact, any Grade), is largely down to their commitment? That for some children the violin is simply not suitable, in the same way that not everyone is destined to become a good rugby player or good at maths? That a transfer pupil will need lots of remedial work rather than taking the next exam?
(One could argue, as long as they pay it doesn't make a difference, and I'm very lucky and next year I might be struggling to earn enough money. I'm very aware of that.)