Job Description for a Viola Student by Heidi Castleman

The following post is by Heidi Castleman.

In any teaching career there are times when the teacher encounters a student who is not fulfilling his/her potential.  The question of what to do can be thorny. There are many possible reasons, some stemming from the teaching, others relating primarily to the student.  Often my first instinct is to re-examine how I might communicate more clearly or inspire more powerfully.  Sometimes adjusting my approach helps the learning process get back on track.  On other occasions, however, despite adjusting my lesson participation, the student remains stalled and continues to make little if any progress.  What to do?

At these most frustrating of moments I turn to a document filed away in my “back drawer”: JOB DESCRIPTION FOR A VIOLA STUDENT (or Criteria for Student Evaluation).  This document summarizes student requirements necessary for productive work together; it is designed for the college student, but its fundamental structure easily adapts to any age group or level of advancement.  Should the student be unwilling or unable to embrace such a contract, the advisability of continuing our teacher/student relationship then merits discussion.  Accepting a dysfunctional relationship, in hopes of improvement, may relate to the student’s age, goals or other  general circumstances, as well as to the institutional context of the teaching situation.   Each student is at a different developmental stage with varying strengths and deficiencies. Hence, this outline will never be quite the same for any two students.

Job Description for a Viola Student:


A. Principle-centered (cf. Response-centered)

It is essential that the student have a belief system against which the value of all actions   and outcomes is measured.  A foundation built exclusively on what others value and like  is shaky and destined to crumble.

B. Open to change

As musicians our artform exists only in the “now”.   Therefore our artistic expressions never repeat themselves, meaning that our world is perpetually changing.  We cannot be defensive and be successful; we must be open and responsive.


The sun comes up; the sun goes down.  Rhythms and routines are an inherent part of living.  If we are unable to build personal routines allowing us to tap fully into our talents, we cannot build the skill sets necessary to be a musician.


A. Scales, arpeggios, shifting, facility, double-stops

B. Bowing

C. Etudes

D. Excerpts

E. Repertoire – concerto, sonata, Bach, short pieces (With memorization and performance requirements)

The sample undergraduate curriculum below gives one example of how to translate the above outline into action.  While stressing that each student requires individually-tailored curriculum, those with more extensive background would modify this accordingly.

Curriculum Example

Year 1 (Freshman):

  • Shifting (10 minutes): Substitution.  Basic shifting.
  • Facility (15 minutes): Schradieck, Sevcik Opus 1, pt 1.
  • Scales / Arpeggios (20 minutes): One position.
  • Double Stops: (20 minutes): Singing intervals,  from Rose, Extreme Viola!.
  • Bowing (15 minutes): String crossings,  Staccato class strokes,  Legato class.
  • Etudes (40 minutes): Kreutzer,  Campagnoli.
  • Bach/ Short Pieces (1 hour): Bach I, II, III/ Bel Canto style/  Perpetual motions.
  • Sonata / Concerto (1 hour): At least one of each.

Year 2 (Sophomore):

  • Shifting: Sevcik Opus 8.
  • Facility: Ondricek,Emanuel:Superior Finger Exercises for Viola (Southern Music Co) .
  • Scales / Arpeggios: 3 octave major and melodic scales/ 3 octave arpeggios.
  • Double Stops: Kourgov (not currently published).
  • Bowing: Spiccato class strokes, Sevcik  Opus 3,  Mixed bowings.
  • Etudes: Fiorillo.  Rode.
  • Bach / Short Pieces: Bach IV, V, VI/ Elegies/ Classical style.
  • Sonata / Concerto: (1 hour): At least one of each.

Year 3 (Junior):

  • Shifting: Dounis, The Artist’s Technique…
  • Facility: from concerto passages.
  • Scales / Arpeggios: Harmonic minor and chromatic.
  • Double Stops: Sevcik Opus 1, Part 4.
  • Bowing: Tartini The Art of Bowing.
  • Etudes: Gavinies,  Excerpts.
  • Bach / Short Pieces: Gamba Sonatas/ Spanish style/ French style.
  • Sonata / Concerto: (1 hour): At least one of each.

Year 4 (Senior):

  • Etudes: Dont, Excerpts.
  • Bach / Short Pieces: Bach Violin Sonatas and Partitas/ show pieces/ Kreisler.
  • Sonata / Concerto: (1 hour): At least one of each.

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