I have spent many years grappling with the problem of holding my students’ interest during summertime. summer-music-small

In the summer, I frequently wanted to accept performance gigs that would take me away for 8 weeks at a time, or simply wanted some much needed time off.

What do you do? Send your students over to another teacher for the summer? Let them take 8 weeks off from lessons? You know that neither of those scenarios is a very good one. Both can result in serious losses to your studio membership and to students’ progress.

The Problem with Substitutes

Sending students to another teacher can work, but it can also back-fire.

First of all, there is the obvious possibility of “student-stealing”. If you can find a colleague who is trustworthy and will not contradict or belittle your methods behind your back, then you are in great shape.

But it is still cause for concern, is it not? Let’s assume that you have found the ideal colleague and you trust them entirely. A lot of upheaval can result from having your students study with another teacher for a long period of time.

apples-orangesOn the other hand, I believe that other viewpoints can be very beneficial to students, and I am not in the least bit threatened by opposing theories or methods. Studying the violin is all about learning about your choices, and trying to choose what is best for YOUR body, YOUR style of playing, YOUR students…..and I try to give my students diversity in that way.

However, it’s nearly impossible to find a substitute who can be completely congruent with all of your angles, methods, and philosophies.

My Sad Experience

One summer, I handed my students over to a male colleague so that I could play a ten-week opera festival, knowing that I could trust him to respect my methods and not attempt to recruit my students to his studio. (For one thing, his permanent home was 800 miles away!)
When I came back, much to my horror, my students started telling me how glad they were that I was back, and that they had not enjoyed the experience at all.

talktoomuchAs it turns out, although I respect his teaching a lot, I do not agree with his delivery method or the way he injects his personality into lessons. I forgot what a talker and gabber he can be, and didn’t realize that he would not filter this out for lessons. He spent more than half of lesson time talking and gabbing with students, and the other half he spent nit-picking a SINGLE line of music.

His approach was very detail-oriented, and he focused on teaching students to pay attention on a micro level. But my teaching philosophy is that the student MUST be allowed to make music at every lesson. They must feel the gratification of showing me what it is they worked on through the week.

It is incredibly frustrating for a student to work on eight different things all week long, and not even get to address two at a lesson. This is how my students spent their summer in my absence. Paying to listen to my colleague talk, and getting frustrated. I had wasted my students’ time and money!

Furthermore, he had introduced several of my students to vibrato and shifting before I had wanted them to start it. Once you let that cat out of the bag, you can’t get it back in!

So I had to deal with “pre-mature vibrato syndrome”, with the student enthusiastically “shaking their hand” on long notes, and doing it wrong, but feeling like they finally had vibrato. You can’t just tell them to stop it! You have to try to fix a flat tire while driving down the highway!

The Solution

Most violin students have a desire to also play a form of pop music, whether it’s movie music (which so often features prominent beautiful violin melodies), easy listening hits, or an alternate style to classical, such as fiddle style, jazz, blues, Cajun, you name it.

I like to give my students the opportunity to learn an alternative style during the summer months. It just seems to go with the season. It gives students a mental break from the grind and discipline required in a classical studio, yet you can sneak some technique in there without the student ever even realizing it! (like sneaking zucchini into a birthday cake!)

A great idea….but I was too busy to develop an organized curriculum, and at the time, I did not spend much time teaching alternative styles.

So, I would often encourage students to attend summer festivals of their choosing, which was ALWAYS inspiring and refreshing to students, but only a handful could afford to attend these festivals. They had families, jobs, or their parents could not afford the tuition, room and board of a full-blown music festival.

So, I would offer them my meager handful of fiddle tunes, but it really wasn’t a summer break.

Teachers, Consider This

Red Desert Fiddle’s online fiddle course, Fabulous Fiddle Fundamentals, offers the perfect solution for private violin teachers wanting a summer break for themselves or their students. It is affordable, non-committal, and will definitely give your students a solid fiddle foundation without contradicting the classical principles of violin playing. It is what I wish I had for my studio ten years ago!

For $57 per month, your students will learn a tune a week, scales, some theory, basic improvisation skills, how to read a chord chart, how to play back-up, how to take a solo, band etiquette, how to start and end a tune, fiddle bow patterns and left hand ornaments. If they can move even faster than that, their pace can be accommodated.

See what it’s like to know your students are in good hands while you take your summer break, and watch as your students return to you, refreshed and excited! And if you’re a violin teacher, you can get a sneak peek for free to see if my program is something you want to entrust your students to. Want an inside look? Contact me: lora[at]reddesertviolin[dot]com.