Robert Estrin - piano expert

What if You Disagree with Your Music Teacher?

Learn how to cope in the event you disagree with your teacher

In this video, Robert gives you some tips in case you ever find yourself in a position to disagree with your music teacher.

Released on June 1, 2016

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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin at and And the question today is, what if you disagree with your teacher? This can be a really hairy situation. And believe me, I've dealt with this with many students, and any of you out there listening, you know who you are.

Actually, more talented students will actually sometimes give you the hardest time trying to find out, "Why do I have to do that?" It shows at least they're thinking about it, and that's really half the battle of practice and getting something accomplished, is that questioning attitude. But how do you deal with it?

I studied with my father Morton Estrin from the time I started as a young child until I went away to conservatory after high school, except for some master classes at the Mozarteum in Salzburg. So there I was at Manhattan School of Music with phenomenal pianist Constance Keene. And from the very first lessons, it became apparent to me that she had some radically different ideas from what I had been trained with, and there's many reasons for this. My father has enormous hands that can span, what, 11th or something. Yeah, an 11th. And I have tiny hands. Now, Constance Keene was a very slight woman, so obviously she had to approach the piano differently.

So the real crux of the matter is this. If you're going to a conservatory, or even if you're just studying with any teacher paying good, hard-earned money to get their advice, it's, I believe, essential to at least listen to them and try out what they're telling you, even if it goes against everything that you think and believe in. Because there's a reason why you chose them as a teacher. You're wanting to gain insights from somebody who knows more than you do, and the only way you'll really be able to get anything out of the experience is to trust them.

You have to really take what they say and embrace it. Then, after working at least a week on what everything they told you to do, even if it seems kind of crazy, then you could at least know for yourself what the value is. But if you dismiss it before you even try it, how can you possibly know.

But does this mean that you should blindly accept anything a teacher tells you? No. As a matter of fact, the idea of questioning, if you really just don't feel that something is of any value, you could ask, "Just so I understand and get my head around this, how does this help me? Or how does this work out musically?" Asking questions, intelligent questions, can be very helpful in the learning process.

After all, teaching is not a one-way street. Great teachers know how to listen to their students and get inside their heads how they think. So give your teacher the ammunition to be able to know what you're thinking, and they'll be able to help you even better. But take their advice, and if you're not comfortable taking their advice, find another teacher. Maybe it's not the teacher for you.

All right. So that's what to do when you disagree with your teacher. Love to hear from any of you out there who've had interesting experiences with new teachers, maybe teachers you've had difficulties with, and maybe when times that it turned out great after all.

Again, Robert Estrin at and Keep the questions coming in.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Brenda Luci * VSM MEMBER * on March 2, 2022 @5:39 am PST
Hi Robert, Yes I had a few clarinet teachers. One was the principal teacher who I was with for many years. I went to him after being with a good clarinet player but who was very nervous and made me uncomfortable and not relaxed because of his nerves. Still, the teacher I had the longest was very calm and didn't mind questions. I also was referred to HIS teacher, an old man, who gave me some good tips that my teacher had forgotten. Also I had a few lessons with a clarinetist friend of his who also gave me another slant on things. Your series of videos are helpful as well, and I also found a book (the name escapes me, and it's in storage now) written by a former professional player and teacher gave me insights into the things he wished his teachers had taught him that would have sped up his progress, like how to practice, and how to break down difficult passages. So I feel that it's good to learn from more than one teacher and read a lot, because then as a student you get different points of view. The richness of hearing from more than one source of information really makes a difference in your playing!
Robert - host, on March 2, 2022 @1:39 pm PST
The most important teacher is the one you start with. This is contrary to what most people believe. If you start with a good teacher, you will develop a good approach to the instrument. Later on, with different teachers, you can take things that make sense to incorporate into your playing. And if there are things that don't don't have value, you will have enough knowledge to avoid pitfalls.
Brenda Luci * VSM MEMBER * on March 2, 2022 @4:06 pm PST
Yes, that makes sense. But my first teacher was the nervous one. The next teacher I found by contacting the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra, and he got me started in the method used by the Royal Conservatory of Music, with the required scales, required excerpts, etc etc. But actually my very first teacher was myself... learning at home with my brother and sister in our basement, then going on to band class in high school. I loved those 2 school years and spent literally half the day in the band's practice rooms! Going through the RCM method as an adult with 4 teenagers at home was eye opening though but very good at grounding my playing by drilling on the basics. My long-time teacher was very good, and very patient. It's true, the others filled in some gaps as you say. In 2019 I was asked to play 1st clarinet in an orchestra in Toronto. We were given our audition music 3 days before the audition, with all kinds of key changes and tempo changes, that weeded out the experienced from the inexperienced ones. What a fabulous experience! All of those years of training paid off. This training helped all of us to bond as friends, and we still gain more musician friends as a result of putting in the long hours of lessons and practice... and exams. I enjoy your videos very much, because each of them add their grain of sand as well. Thank you!
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