Musicians Union warning: When teaching, don’t touch

Musicians Union warning: When teaching, don’t touch


norman lebrecht

February 04, 2014

This film predates the child abuse scandals at private English music schools. It’s a bit precious but not without sense.

mu video keep children safe


  • thekingontheviolin says:

    This video is utterly mad.I resigned from public sector teaching several years ago, partly, because I could sense that this direction was being taken. I have survived more than 40 years teaching experience and have always touched pupils of both sexes “inappropriately” and shall continue to do so.

    As to this video let us note that the student is more talented than the teacher. The student looks “gay” and “seductive”. The teacher looks “angry”. The teacher’s demosnstration at the end is played with worse intonation than the student’s and he has dirty finger nails to boot.England has famously never produced a single violinist soloist of note and with this video we can expect almost as a guarantee the continuance of such a state of affairs. For those sane minded people who agree with me that abuse, whether sexual, mental or physical, is a quite separate area from touching which is vital for violin teachers in my opinion. Please feel free to get in touch should you need normal good violin teaching. Norman Lebrecht has my contact details.

  • Prewartreasure says:

    To: ‘thekingontheviolin’ If you see the kid in this clip as ‘seductive’ (meaning – alluring, appealing, attractive, magnetic, fascinating, etc) then I suggest you seek professional help immediately.

    I am just relieved that my eldest grandson, who is currently learning the violin, is not under your tutelage!

  • I think when teaching arts like music and dance it is oftentimes essential that the instructor touches the students. Rare is the talented student who can make it to the top without anyone guiding him or her through the physical movements of playing a string instrument, for example. The countries that adopt this kind of hysterical policies will have to accept that in their formal teaching institutions the level can never reach very high – unless the teachers and the students agree to secretly violate those policies…

    • Many American universities, probably most, have long had do not touch policies. The quality of the students show this hasn’t harmed pedagogy.

      • I know dozens of talented American music students and I can assure you that if there is a strict “do not touch policy” it’s probably been violated on a daily basis for the benefit of the student. That’s what I meant by the last line of my comment.

        • For the dozens touched, there are likely many more who weren’t. In any case, the policy establishes a guideline that is crossed with care, and which allows students protections if things get out of hand (sic.) On the other hand, I could imagine that such rules are not as necessary in the little, uniform, and highly regulated countries of Scandinavia.

  • thekingontheviolin says:

    I think you are missing my point. The student’s playing is poor. The teacher’s playing and teaching are worse. This video is put out by the Musicians’ Union of England.

    I am trying to point out that whilst it is laudable to combat all kinds of abuse there is the danger of “throwing out the baby with the bath water”. It seems as if touching has been scapegoated so that its removal from teaching instruments will deal with abuse which it will not in my opinion. Furthermore, I still maintain that touching, manipulating the posture,and finger placements are vital ingredients to teaching the violin and strongly disagree that verbal instruction is a better way. Non abusive teachers are being forced to abandon basic teaching techniques due to abusive teachers abusing physical touching which is not automatically to be seen as sexaul or violent.

    We in this country have had to concede defeat in development of high quality violin playing which is now predominantly ex Soviet or Chinese and this kind of move will further weaken our tools as teachers. As to your suggestion that I should seek professional help, you should consider that the whole video has been produced in a highly manipulative way (another kind of abuse) choosing to render the student as looking what I termed “gay” and “seductive” and the teacher as “angry” in order to make its point. However, the point which the video is trying to make is simply wrong in my opinion. The video is coming from a position of fear and is attempting to protect both students and teachers from allegations which could be damaging to teachers and their employers. It is not addressing the issue of abuse whilst maintaining that it is.

    It cannot be stated enough that all abuse is wrong but erroneous phoney solutions will only further complicate the highly complex and emotive issues at stake. Any good violin teacher and any good student knows that the spoken word is not enough in establishing the finger placements of both arms satisfactorily and from more than 40 years experience of teaching at all levels from beginner to soloist this remains my considered opinion.

    I also maintain that the majority of teachers are good people and we are moving dangerously close to a position whereby abusive teachers have caused through their exposure a kind of statistic equation which is false viz as it is statistically possible to be employing abusive teachers this potential must not be manifested…TRUE! followed by as we do not know who is a potential abuser and who is not we will have to make the assumption that any teacher is potentially abusive…..FALSE! followed by let’s stop touching (to be on the safe side) and hey presto the problem is solved. MADNESS!

    Teachers who are not abusive and do not have the potential to be abusive should not be handicapped and penalised as potential abusers because statistics have revealed that there have been tragic cases of abusive teachers damaging their students.

  • It is sad that our countries (the UK and the USA at least) are so afraid of physical contact. During my time in Brazil, I realized that the way teachers and students interact with each other is so much warmer, hugs between them happen all the time, teachers kiss their students on the head or the cheek, students call their teachers by their first name, and this shows how much they care for each other. Of course, this would mean an instant lawsuit in the US, but although I don’t know the numbers, I’m sure there are less instances of child abuse in music lessons and schools in Brazil than the US.

    This teacher-student relationship is probably because of Brazilian culture, and I believe the rest of Latin America as well, being warmer in general, kisses on the cheek when people meet, standing closer together when talking, more pats on the back and physical contact, which I found refreshing and I wish Americans weren’t so cold in their interactions.

  • Peter says:

    I think that all my instrumental teachers had physical contact with me, showing me how to hold my hands, arms, back, head. At no time did I, nor do I now, think that any of it was inappropriate. So either I was / am a completely clueless victim, or else my teachers weren’t a bunch of lecherous paedophiles, (or both).

    But why not take this a logical step forward. Some teachers abuse their students verbally. Most don’t, of course, but that is not an acceptable counter argument. So I suggest that verbal interaction between teacher and student should be avoided. Lessons should be conducted through mime.

  • thekingontheviolin says:

    B R I L L I A N T…..

    Why didn’t I think of that instead of writing my long piece. Please be careful about mime though! It could be misconstrued as obscene. Consider the poses necessary in classical ballet.

  • Gerhard says:

    For instance think of Alexander lessons without touching, and perhaps without verbalizing as well. Hard to imagine how the message should come across. Quite a challenge for a master mime in any case.