I've been teaching a long time now, and playing far longer. My income has been based solely on lessons and performance for the past 9 years, with no day job (aside from performing). I'm proud of that because it's allowed me to focus all of my effort into learning what is really an art in itself - teaching effectively. When I decided to start teaching professionally, I wanted to do what most of my early instructors had failed to do: show me proper technique without making me hate music.
Looking back, I can't imagine where I would be now if I'd had excellent teachers from when I started at age 8. Upon starting, neither me nor my parents had any idea what a good teacher was. By definition, a beginning student of violin knows nothing about the instrument, which also means they don't know if they're being taught improperly. It took us about 5 years of lessons before we realized what a "good" violin teacher looked like, and, not by coincidence, that was also the point where my playing took off. I went from being that screechy, out-of-tune violin player that everyone expects to hear when they think of a 12 year old playing, to a professional-level player by the time I was 16. This didn't happen because I had some stroke of genius at the age of 12, but because we finally made the decision to seek out a truly good instructor.
It was so clear what a good teacher was once we switched, like night and day.
What a difference! I remember having those same early teachers hearing me play later, even just 1 year after I left their tutelage, and hearing them say "wow, something has really happened! He never sounded like that when I taught him!" Maybe my potential was not as obvious to them before and they preferred to focus their real effort on students who everything came easily to. Whatever the reason, the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher was an order of magnitude. After switching, we drove an hour each way to get to higher quality teachers, but it was well worth it.
Around this time (age 12) I joined a youth orchestra for the first time. I had also just began learning viola. This was the Napa Valley Youth Symphony in their first year, and I was the only viola player, with no idea what I was doing. And within a single year of having gotten an effective teacher and joining this group, I went from a very poor player in a very poor youth orchestra, to having a position in the Santa Rosa Youth Symphony, and having a good grasp on music. This youth orchestra was much more serious and had significantly better players, as well as having closer to 100 members instead of 30. Within one year of that accomplishment, I auditioned and succeeded in getting into the San Francisco Youth Symphony, which is one of the best in the U.S., and in the world. There was nowhere better to go from this point, so I stayed in the SFYO for 3 years, focusing on improving my playing and my position in the orchestra. During this time, I also had the pleasure of attending an intensive composition program at the Cleveland Institute of Music for young composers. Only 15 people in the world were accepted in this program. Aside from that, I also attended a Master Class on composition with Kenji Bunch (a well-known string composer). Everyone else in the class was much older than me, but apparently Kenji was most impressed by my abilities, since he sent an email out a few days later remarking on the "young violist that attended (he didn't remember my name)."
This level of progress, in such a short time, was very unexpected to me. It was interesting to see the transition in only a couple of years between thinking of music as a hobby, to seriously considering it as a profession, all because of getting a better teacher.
However, I did hit a roadblock: I had crippling stage fright, particularly in auditions. I would prepare endlessly and have everything perfect, and then see it fall apart because I couldn't stop shaking and sweating. It's funny how such a trivial thing like nervousness can break apart a potential career. This was so disappointing that I actually took a break from playing for about a year's time. Here is a short video I dug up (I was about 16) of me preparing for the Concerto Competition in San Francisco, which was the final time my stage fright got the best of me:
Shortly after I decided on taking a break from my instrument, I had the opportunity to teach a young viola player. It came up out of sheer coincidence and I needed some money so I agreed to give it a try. To the surprise of both of us, I was truly proficient at teaching. All of the concepts from my various teachers over the years, combined with my own experience with both failure and success, added up to a terrific combination for instruction. I was able to transfer my own expert skill set onto another player, and I loved it! In truth, I found teaching more satisfying than I ever found playing.
From then on, I was hooked and decided to dedicate myself to being able to teach anyone, even those whose talent wasn't immediately apparent, and I really do consider myself the best teacher around for this reason. Although I was naturally good at instruction, there are ALWAYS new situations for instructors that throw them off. But instead of saying "well, there's a problem I can't fix," I decided to work on developing new cues and easily digestible techniques that could work for anyone, including absolute beginners. Any age, any skill level, any talent. I've done everything from teaching someone basic rhythm by forcing their feet to tap while they play, to developing the musicality and finesse of very advanced players. But the thing I'm most proud of is what I've learned to do that I was never taught: talk students through stage fright and nervousness. I understand it and have overcome it. As a result of this, my students are generally very successful in auditions. And my diligence, combined with what is now a very significant level of experience in teaching, has made me a very effective violin instructor. I have over 45 students visit me every week, all of whom I'm immensely happy to teach.
Here's a very basic timeline of my musical past:
1998 - Started violin
2002 - Started viola
2002 - Joined Napa Valley Youth Symphony
2003 - Joined Santa Rosa Youth Symphony
2004 - Chosen for composition masterclass with Kenji Bunch
2004 - Joined San Francisco Youth Symphony
2005 - Attended "Intensive Composition Program" at Cleveland Institute of Music
2007 - Entered Concerto Competition
2008 - Began teaching on a serious level
2009 - Founded Sacramento Strings and dedicated my career to teaching
2017 - Have logged thousands of hours of teaching time and I'm still excited about doing it every day.