A mentally gifted and exceptionally verbose violin teacher unravels the mysteries surrounding the complex inner workings of the violin student's mind
by Rhiannon Nachbaur of Award-Winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio
In the expansive field of psychology, violin students' personality traits are understood to be the complicated mental dimensions of personality discovered through empirical research. Empirical research meaning, in the context of this article, my vast experience and wisdom as a violin teacher for the past 16+ years.
To further advance the congruity of science and arts in the 21st century and assist my readers to unravel the fascinating mysteries surrounding the complex inner workings of the violin student's mind, I have compiled my extensive investigation into the following twelve categories:
Frequently manifested in pupils over the age of forty, these wide-eyed and petrified casualties of violin instruction are rarely seen by audiences or people who appreciate fine music. Mushrooms of novice music, these willy-nilly players resort to more desirable activities on recital night, such as an elective colonoscopy or tooth drilling, but on rare events may be coerced, er, motivated to participate with the proper incentive: promises of an empty theatre and free finger food.
Once on stage and confronted with the reality of a sold-out live audience (far less preferable to Deer in Headlights to that of a dead audience) the Deer in Headlights defy the human “fight or flight” instinct and opt to freeze for the duration of their piece. Though they seem to be in a deranged trance, they are actually using their peripheral vision to locate the nearest exit.
More bold and seasoned Deer in Headlights may muster up the courage to play a fragment of a scale or the start to “Twinkle Twinkle,” but usually opt for scurrying off the stage like a squirrel with a weak bladder.
The blind audition, or one which is conducted with the player behind a screen or curtain, was surely concocted by a Deer in Headlights. He or she could play like the dickens but had an inordinate fear of spotlights, neat rows of seating and eyeballs.
Players between the ages of four and six may experience Deer in Headlights symptoms during their first couple violin lessons, in which time they will stare up with a frozen, gaping mouth and frightened raised eyebrows at the instructor. They do not respond to light conversation or friendly questions and spend the entire half hour session frozen. They may go out on a limb and nod their head slightly when asked if they want a sticker at the end of class.
Sadly for the teacher, this phase quickly passes and many morph into Ping Pong Balls, leaving the teacher pining for the days when the child didn't speak.
The most concentrated number of young violin students fall into the Ping Pong Ball classification. They are very easy to spot as they are the ones swinging from the ceiling lamp, followed by floor gymnastics while screaming nasty, made-up lyrics to Ode to Joy. The Ping Pong Balls find it inexorably difficult to pay attention to the lesson, listen to their teacher or remain still for longer than 3.672 seconds (I've clocked them).
Depth is lost on the Ping Pong Ball and teachers working with them find themselves the object of much rejection. I have concluded some of my finest technique lectures and riveting inspirational speeches only to be asked by a Ping Pong Ball, “Where did you get that cool pen? Can I have it?”
The Ping Pong Ball quickly switches topics to something about another child at her school who can lick her own elbows and then on to the subject of what their dog coughed up the other day. She cannot think in a room with windows, bright lights or shiny objects.
This is not to say the Ping Pong Ball is not an intelligent individual. Quite the opposite, the Ping Pong Ball is a very smart child who is so enthusiastic about her violin lesson she cannot control her urge to act impulsively.
Violin teachers with pets, toys or any other objects of desire for children in their home will find dealing with these distractions to be a losing battle. Just let them play and enjoy the time off to surf the net or catch up on laundry. The child is having fun at their lesson, even if they haven't learned anything violin-wise. Tune their violin, give them a star on their book and send them on their hyperactive way.
Music teachers serving time in prison incontestably taught one too many Aggravating Antagonizers in their careers. The Aggravating Antagonizer is undoubtedly the most difficult violin student to instruct as they are usually under age and protected by special laws; laws which they conveniently use to their obstinate advantage.
Picture an adorable seven-year-old little girl in pigtails. Add a pouting bottom lip, claws and a shrill scream and you've got the start of a successful Aggravating Antagonizer. You say black, she says white. You ask her to play a scale in tenuto whole notes, she plays it staccato prestissimo! Aggravating Antagonizers are spite externalized, though surely they would disagree.
A few more words on Aggravating Antagonizers: adverse, clashing, conflicting, contradictory, headstrong, hostile, negative, obstinate, opposed, ornery, rebellious, stubborn and unruly.
Ping Pong Balls and Aggravating Antagonizers do mellow and become more agreeable with age. As teens they enter a pupal stage in development as a Teenage Trend Jockey. Like the Ping Pong Ball, the Teenage Trend Jockeys (or as they would cleverly have it, the “T2J”) are still distracted from the lesson, but focus their teenage distraction instead on being cool and aloof.
Strangely there is a definite split in characteristics depending on the gender of the Teenage Trend Jockey. Females exhibit this behavior by spending the entire lesson admiring their polished reflection in the mirror and messing with their hair. They obsess on mundane news items yet insist Britney Spears' new haircut is information of life-altering quality.
Teenage Trend Jockey Males are simply concerned with occasionally pulling up their sagging pants and disengaging their cel phone alarms every two minutes to help pass the time. They also enjoy bragging about their cars and latest gadgets. They do not yet understand the concept of deodorant.
All Teenage Trend Jockeys find enjoyment in checking their text messages and starting up loud conversations with other students waiting in the hall outside the lesson room rather than listening to their teacher. They are not known to practice and have many tragic reasons why they didn't have the time to practice that week [see Excuse Generator.] However, they are good to keep around as they all give free computer and technology tech support.
I, regretfully fall under this classification. Mixed with Chitchatter students, my long distance phone bill rivals the national debt. To keep things succinct, the Chitchatter talks constantly and dedicates a fair chunk of lesson time to casual banter.
Some adult Chitchatters are just cleverly avoiding playing in front of the teacher or any other observers [see Deer in Headlights] and must be cut off mid-sentence and firmly ordered to play a G major scale.
Violin teachers must strive to schedule chit chatters before Chronically Unpunctual students and to never, under any circumstances schedule a Chitchatter before Neurotic Nelly for whom the weekly babbling and delay to lessons will surely cause a mental breakdown in the latter.
More than one Chitchatter in a group lesson or ensemble means no actual practicing or rehearsing will be done, so you may as well just sit back and enjoy the conversation. Finally, DO NOT schedule the Chitchatter at the end of your teaching day unless you like staying after work two hours extra each day and eating cold supper alone while your family sleeps.
Not to be confused with mere Chitchatters who simply enjoy talking during lessons and sharing a mundane narrative, or the Aggravating Antagonizer who is contrary to anything the teacher says or does, the Know-It-All has the inexplicable ability to attend one lesson and become an instant expert in the violin, its technique and theory.
Expect the Know-It-All to refute any information you share as a teacher but to lack the capacity to prove their argument. Thus arguing with the Know-It-All is futile. Logic and reason do not apply. Yet they continue to pay for lessons even though they are thoroughly convinced they know all there is to be known in violin.
Violin instructors tend to breed Know-It-All children who refute everything their parent explains to them about music or life experience in general. This is the reason why violin instructors pay to have someone else teach their offspring violin.
Know-It-Alls are connoisseurs of self-arrogance and ego in its lowest forms but tragically claim to be humble and patient. Never compliment a Know-It-All; his head will swell up to three times its normal size, which is already larger than 95% of the population, and you will be forced to rush him into the nearest hospital for an emergency ego-exctomy.
Despite their lack of popularity in musical circles, there is plenty of work for Know-It-Alls. With much practice and very little thought they make superb orchestral conductors or music critics.
Some Procrasti-Masters have devolved into a nasty little side cluster: the Chronically Unpunctual. These people do own watches but apparently do not know how to read them. The laws of time and space do not exist in the mind of the Chronically Unpunctual. To them a weekly lesson slot is merely a suggested time for arrival.
Chronically Unpunctual students are in the lesson in spirit. The spirit of swearing while swerving down the highway at outrageous speeds. Strangely, they find their composure as they enter the lesson room and act as if there is nothing at all inappropriate in being 15 minutes late for a 30 minute lesson.
Chronically Unpunctual parents of young violin students raise resentful Excuse-Generator children who, with enough missed lessons, may even develop into Neurotic Nellies. The Chronically Unpunctual may become nervous wrecks over time, in which case they incorporate Excuse-Generator traits to their repertoire which season their weekly late arrivals. After all, every teacher loves a long, drawn-out story involving traffic, bad roads, alien abductions and time distortion at the start of class.
Procrasti-Masters leave everything to the very last minute, and not just their weekly commutes to lessons. They have the best intentions of practicing their violins all week but seem to forget about it until the day of the lesson. Some can be seen practicing their music in the car en route to the lesson.
Interestingly, Procrasti-Masters' best work is done under pressure. To them it's a thrilling experience, like skydiving or robbing a bank. The adrenaline starts running as the teacher asks the Procrasti-Master to play the new piece he was assigned the week previous. Thus Procrasti-Masters are fantastic sight-readers and learn pieces far quicker and more efficiently than those silly people who actually practice.
Though it stresses out the teacher to the point of losing sleep and hair, the Procrasti-Master neglects his pieces until a week or so before the recital. An industrious three or four hours is all he needs to catch up. He smiles smugly knowing he wisely used a semester's worth of practice time playing video games. Thus Procrasti-Masters make excellent understudies for times when the soloist cannot play the concert.
Likewise, Procrasti-Masters consistently earn high marks in festivals, contests and exams. This is a point of contention and jealousy among other students, such as Neurotic Nellies, who have been working on their pieces in all twelve keys for five hours a day the past nine months.
One cannot discuss violin students without mention of the Excuse-Generator. The start of every Excuse-Generator's lesson is dominated by the reason they were late, why they didn't practice the previous week, the drawn out story of how their music book went missing and how dropping their violin in no way was the cause for the large, mysterious new crack and broken strings.
Everything in the Excuse-Generator's life is external. They are hapless victims of rare circumstance, government conspiracy and complicated problems to which they have no control or solution. Because of this Excuse-Generators are rarely top-notch violinists. It's clearly not their fault! This is because many cannot read music and have many reasons why it is far easier to just play by ear or fake it.
Excuse-Generators also tend to attract violin strings which break themselves and bows that tighten all on their own after being put back into the case. Paranormal activity is also common. A student of mine recently blamed a ghost for his bow suddenly losing contact and sliding off the string. He insisted it had nothing to do with his technique and asked that I have my home inspected and exorcised by a priest.
In college I had an Excuse-Generator violin teacher who, after playing a sour note, would quickly re-tune her violin. The darn fiddle just seemed to go out of tune every time she made a mistake. It was eerie...
This Type-A personality personifies itself in violin students as the Neurotic Nelly, aka Irritating Pain in the Ass. You will see the Neurotic Nelly in a wild frenzy to get to their lesson twenty minutes early. Being late is simply not an option for the Neurotic Nelly.
Neurotic Nellies make a consistent and painstaking effort to be as anal retentive as possible, thus documenting everything their teacher says and seem to have a better understanding of their teacher's pedagogy than the teacher has. Don't bother arguing whether or not he paid for classes or didn't miss a lesson; he has forms in triplicate and video footage proving the contrary.
Their music is arranged in alphabetical order and is frequently colour-coded. Extreme perfectionists, Neurotic Nellies simply cannot accept compliments as their playing can never be good enough. The plus side is that they always pay for lessons on time and never leave their music at home.
Neurotic Nellies' nervousness makes them unsuitable for colder climates as they are physically unable to travel during inclement weather or bad road conditions. A single hovering snowflake has them pressing speed dial to cancel the afternoon's lesson, much to the teachers' dismay as the Neurotic Nellies always request a free make-up-lesson.
It is widely debated among violin teachers and researchers whether or not a Neurotic Nelly and Black Hole sharing the same desk in an orchestra would simply cancel each other out into oblivion or, conversely, prove to be a winning, symbiotic relationship of give and take. In the meantime, the two are kept in strict isolation from each other for the health of the entire orchestra.
Chaos Incarnate, these muddle-minded individuals coax disorder into their lives as an exposed pair of buttocks in the Amazon basin attracts mosquitoes. Black Holes embrace entropy. Entropy, however, secretly longs for a less tumultuous relationship and is considering a career change.
Some Black Hole's daily routines of pandemonium are garnished with the added burden of a violin lesson every seven days. It's just too regular a schedule to adhere to and Black Holes miss more than half their lessons due to poor planning or forgetfulness.
Suitable mates of Procrasti-Masters and the Chronically Unpunctual, Black Holes also leave everything to the last minute. More interesting to watch however, Black Holes have added the frantic search for coffee-stained sheet music and car keys amidst a disarray of papers and fast food containers only scant minutes before their lesson time. In their muddled, confused hunt they inevitably forget to pack the violin.
One Black Hole I instructed years back became oddly resourceful and folded and wedged her sheet music into the toe of her shoes for “safe-keeping.” The result: a wrinkled copy of Sonata in G with ink running from her preteen perspiration. I even purchased her a binder which was later lost or eaten by her dog, I can't quite remember which.
The Ideal Student is a simple beast who listens intently, does everything as instructed to and practices a joyful 5+ hours each day. He pays in advance, compliments my appearance and his violin never goes out of tune. She frequently flies me out for weekend visits to her Tuscan villa and is compelled to bring Swiss chocolate to lessons.
Now accepting bookings from students who fit this description: inquire within.
And bring chocolates.
*Violin teacher Rhiannon Nachbaur operates award-winning Fiddleheads Violin Studio in Kamloops, BC. She also offers sales of violins, bows and accessories in-shop and online: www.fiddleheads.ca
Comments for Psychological Analysis of Violin Student Personality Traits 101
Wow, you are my hero---you write only the truth...
You have encapsulated your book to be written---but the short version is already there, albeit without the prolonged visitations into existentialism as most know it to be... your rosin has been applied in a duly manner... you have the gift of wordiage and experience... 'twas indeed a pleasure to read your article .....
thanks and cheers to you!
-Joe, North East, Pennsylvania
This is hilarious - your classifications are wonderful and I think I've had at least one student fall into each category, although some of my students seem divided among a few types.
I must say, I have one student who is a chatterbox, but I actually sometimes encourage him in his chatting. He's in his sixties or seventies and plays so terribly that I'd rather talk than to listen. :-P
- Sarah, Beverly, Massachusetts
ROFL - Great article, Rhiannon!!! This is one of the funniest articles I've read in quite some time!
I work with children and find that these characteristics fit with other educational areas. I've printed this article so I can share it with the children's parents. I'm sure it will allow for a moment of stress relieving laughter, something most parents need daily.
My "personality trait"? I'm a combo Chitterchatter and Excuse-Generator (guitar lessons). The first step is in admitting you have a problem, right?
- Vickie, Bellevue, Washington
[I'm] an aggravating antagonizer as a piano student (didn't keep wrists up), guitarist (broke too many strings) and trombone student (TEENAGER) and a procrastimaster/black hole as a Gen-X-thirty-something.
That article was HILARIOUS.
- Jeff, Nebraska
I'm afraid I'm a procrasti-master. My favorite excuse is, "I was kidnapped by aliens. What year is it?"
It generally only works once.
- Russell, South Carolina
Your article on the psychology of violin students was great fun to read. Thank you!
- Peggy, Houston, TX