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Saturday, March 08, 2008

Farewell to the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Student

Some of you may remember the Terrible, Horrible, No-Good, Very Bad Student I've written about before. Well, he told me last week that he's decided to "take a break" from lessons for a while until he can absorb the things he's already learned. I have an odd feeling I might not see him again. And I probably shouldn't feel as relieved about this as I do.

You know what bothered me the most about him? It actually wasn't his terrible intonation, his scratchy sound, his out-of-control bowing, or even the way he never fully listened to me - although all those things did give me headaches! The thing that bothered me the most was that he was looking for a quick fix. Week after week he asked variations on the same questions, and it became apparent that he was hoping for a single piece of information that would eliminate the need for plain old repetition and practice. A long time ago we reached the point where, when reminded, he knew how to hold his bow correctly, how to move his hand, wrist, elbow, arm, and shoulder to draw a straight bowstroke both down and up, and how to practice slowly for intonation. It just didn't matter that he knew these things, because he wouldn't take the time to do any of them, ever. And that was what drove me crazy.

He wasn't interested in following a progressive course of study, in learning scales or new repertoire - he wasn't even interested in devoting serious study to his beloved fiddle tunes and working to turn his dreadful renditions of them into something recognizable. I gave up trying to give him assignments or see progress from week to week; each week I just fielded more of the same ridiculous questions. And sometimes they were really, truly ridiculous ones:

"Should my left hand be in this position, or this position?" he'd ask, demonstrating first playing a note with his fourth finger on the G string, and then playing a note with his fourth finger on the E string. "It can't be one or the other," I'd reply. "You're showing me two very different scenarios: the placement of the fingers on the G string and the placement of the fingers on the E string, which necessitate a different position of the elbow and a different curvature of the fingers. If you have a question about two different hand positions, you need to show me the two versions on one string so I can tell a difference." He refused, saying again, "this, or this?" and demonstrating on two different strings.

Here's another recent scenario that had me fuming:

"Okay, your second finger was better in tune that time, but your fourth finger is still consistently a half-step flat. Make sure to reach a whole step from your third finger to your fourth finger."

"It's not flat," he'd reply. "It doesn't sound flat to me."

"Play your open string and see if you can hear the difference in pitch," I'd instruct. "Your open string is an A, and your fourth finger is playing an A-flat."

"Well, I can't reach any higher."

Now, theoretically when the fourth finger is used, in most cases is it a good rule of thumb to have the first, second, and third fingers resting on the string beneath the fourth finger. However, the THNGVB student did not do this correctly no matter how many times he was reminded, so the matter of "reaching higher" was completely non-existent. There was nothing to reach from. His fourth finger and only his fourth finger was down on the string, so he could easily and freely move it by an octave, much less a half-step. I explained this to him, that nothing was hindering his finger from sliding a half-step highter and being in tune, because he wasn't keeping his fingers down, but again he refused to believe me: "I can't reach any higher than that. It sounds good to me right here."

He was so argumentative he even argued about things entirely unrelated to the violin. Upon finding out that I taught in Topsfield one afternoon a week, he said, "Oh, that's a bit of a drive from here."

"It's not bad," I replied, "It usually takes me about twenty minutes."

"Twenty minutes?!" He exclaimed, "You must be speeding the whole way! It takes me thirty or forty minutes to get to Topsfield!"

Seeking a logical explanation, I asked him, "What route do you take?"

"Oh, I take route 97 the whole way there."

Now, route 97 is a back road winding through the woods. I explained that I took the main highways - a much more direct and fast way. Logical, right?

But he spent the next five minutes complaining about how I must be a speedster, an irresponsible driver, and how there was no way to get to Topsfield in under 30 minutes.

Like I said, I probably should be feeling some remorse about the THNGVB student taking a break from lessons...

...but I am feeling pretty fabulous.


  1. I think I'd be feeling pretty fabulous, too. What a nightmare of a student!!!

  2. Hahaha! Your patience is quite amazing.

  3. Linked here through Emily's blog. That kid sounds like a real terror -- someone I'd like to pick a fight with just for fun. However, your post reminded me of myself in a completely non-musical, non-violing sort of way, and I've realized just how irritating I can be. Thanks for that. :)

  4. violing=violin. Where's a spell check when you need one?

  5. I would say that you had somehow wound up with my THNGVB student but mine was female. I never heard from her either after her "I think I want to take a break." lol I certainly didn't spend any time in mourning over it.