A TWO YEAR VIOLINMAKING SCHOOL?


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Since traditionally violinmaking school programs run about four years, it would seem this length is what the experts have determined it takes to cover all the necessary bases.  But most of us know fine makers who have checked out of some of the noted schools after only a year or two. 


 


All things being equal, one would assume more time is better.  If so, 5 years would be better than 4, and 6 years better than 5.  But there are obvious problems with that, including the financial.  So my question is if anyone thinks 4 year schedules could successfully be pared down by a year or two? 


 


I tried to find out if this has been discussed before on this forum.  So far I only found the subject hinted at.


 


In my several visits to a couple of the schools, I had an impression the students seemed to be moving "at a snail's pace."  It set me thinking—not necessarily correctly—that the old adage may be true: "work tends to fill the time allowed."  Perhaps that's true for learning?   Opinions, discussion, methods, pros and cons, and reasons appreciated. 


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I can't answer from a wood-working/instrument making school...

 

But I know that you can only cover so much in so much time...and you can't overload a student (I've tried...they rebel)...our brains can only take in so much at a time...

 

I suppose you'd need to know exactly what material/practical work was covered in each approach before you could generalize more. 

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... you can't overload a student (I've tried...they rebel)...our brains can only take in so much at a time...

 

 

Learning a craft I think has some basic differences from the academic, in that physical practice over extended time is necessary to get control of the tools, wood, and varnish.

 

4 years seems about the right timescale to get reasonably good at it, assuming some decent amount capability.  However, I think a part-time school would work just fine, hacking around at home for most of the time, with occasional visits to the instructor for guidance.  Logistically, that would be difficult to work out.  

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I only could afford one semester, enough to build one body. I would have loved to spend more time. the interesting thing I observed was that the program was more or less designed to turn almost anyone into a "violin" maker. Everything  was laid out and explained so that a person who had never even sharpened a knife could succeed with reasonable effort.

  While on one hand things moved very slow for myself with years of experience in related fields, for others the time was fast and full. In a school it is IMHO important to present these things equally to all students , so that steps do not get missed.

  I have now spent 7? years on follow-up ...on my own, a few classes a few VSA conventions, and occasional visits to masters ,for critiques, but no shop time , and it is very difficult, there is so much to learn,. My work is coming along nicely, in my mind at least, and I received some good complements from some of my hero's in the field ,however I can see clearly that with more time in either a school or a good makers shop ,that the learning curve would have a very different shape.  

 Two years for a good student seems like a very minimum amount , remember that it is not just the student that receives a graduate certificate , but that the school also want's competent alumni to represent them and certain standards will be met.

 Thanks to MN and it's members for sharing . It has been and continues to be a great source of ideas to try,inspiration and encouragement. thank you all. 

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If you came in with a good set of basic woodworking skills: already know how to sharpen, know how to properly use your block plane, make a joint, basic carving skills, ect.

 

Then, yes, it could work. If you have to teach the students how to use their tools, then, unlikely.

 

Also, just making, no repair, and the most basic of set-up.  If you work on your own, just making, you probably cut fewer bridges in a year than I cut in a month.

 

Probably no cellos, either. Just violins, or violas.

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Just a couple of comments:

 

I believe the Chicago School is only 3 years.  So that's shorter than 4.

 

It would be a mistake to assume that 3 or even 4 years of formal school training turns out a full fledged, experienced maker.  It's those years immediately after school training that can be very important.  In school, as I understand it, the students make a very small number, maybe 2 or 3, maybe only one, of complete instruments.  It's those years after school -- perhaps working in a fine shop -- that add some completion to the a maker's skills, if for no other reason than the opportunity to see some very fine violins in detail first hand.

 

But even with those extra years in a fine shop after violin making school, it's hard for me to imagine -- and this is a personal prejudice -- a maker really knowing what they are doing until they've built about a dozen, maybe 2 dozen violins on their own after leaving violin making school.

 

Steven Csik 

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I believe the VMSA has changed their curriculum slightly since I graduated. When I was there you had to complete 8 violins, a viola, and a cello to graduate. They expected that would take most students 4 years, but it was really dependent on the student. I had some basic woodworking skills when I showed up (I had attempted to build some instruments, and I had worked at a cabinet shop) and I was able to graduate in 3 years. Some students took 5. I like to think I had some natural ability and was prone to making mistakes from working too fast rather than being too cautious; I think that helped me finish expeditiously.

I view violin making school as a primer. When you graduate you are ready to work for a shop and develop your skill. Graduating shows that you are committed to the work and the career. I like the idea that it takes ten-thousand hours of dedicated work at something to attain proficiency- "mastery". That felt about right for me personally.

In the format that the schools are working now I don't think it's feasible to teach an adequate two year course, but I think it most depends on what the student brings to the table.

M

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I am told that it's important to work for a master luthier who shares information. This can be in school, but is more important in an apprenticeship at a busy shop. I heard a story or two about a master maker and a shop owner who would chase the apprentices away and assign them to some menial tasks. So pick your mentor carefully. Talk to the graduates or former employees. Again, this is what I have been told by formally trained makers.

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Just a couple of comments:

 

I believe the Chicago School is only 3 years.  So that's shorter than 4.

 

But even with those extra years in a fine shop after violin making school, it's hard for me to imagine -- and this is a personal prejudice -- a maker really knowing what they are doing until they've built about a dozen, maybe 2 dozen violins on their own after leaving violin making school.

 

Steven Csik 

I may not remember correctly, but I believe it is 3 and 1/2 years.

 

I agree very much with the second paragraph, but that will be true, IMO, whether a school is 2,3,4, or even 5 years.  That, in fact, might be a reason for a shorter program:  get the student out into his (almost essential) secondary training even sooner.  Obviously, the shorter the program, the better it would have to be organized and taught.  To me it would take a more articulate and organized teacher than a longer program.

 

In a way that is inherent in my OP question:  Can a teacher or school organize and teach in a more efficient way than heretofore?

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I'd much prefer a three month stint with a good teacher than three years with a poor one.

 

I think that the greatest drain on enthusiasm, and the greatest disservice that can be done a student, is to allow him get stuck, and not keep the work moving on. A teacher should always be able to see when a student gets bogged down, and by demonstration and supervision, get him going again.

 

I've seen people finishing a three year course with just a couple of finished instruments. They haven't scratched the surface of becoming a craftsman, capable of turning out enough work, and good enough work, to put bread on the table. If a student isn't capable of making an instrument well and fairly quickly after the first year, I think either he, or his teacher, needs to find a vocation that better suits him. I know this may sound harsh, but I've seen too many people setting out thinking they have a 'qualification' only to be ground down by disappointment, eventually giving up, having wasted years of their lives.

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I am currently a student at CSVM.  The program is designed to take 3 years but depending on your speed it is possible to finish 3 months earlier or later than that.  In that time, you are required to build seven instruments total with a 3 month course in repair techniques.  I should clarify that there is a 6 week exam in order to graduate.  The 6 week exam includes building a violin in the white, complete a technical drawing of that instrument,  set up one instrument and varnish one instrument ( all instruments from the exam are part of the seven total instruments).  

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Two years could work.  Everything really depends on the student in this business.  Some people naturally take advantage of every learning opportunity and are highly motivated.  Some are not. There are those people that it wouldn't matter if they went to school for ten years, they just don't have it in them.  On the other hand there are others that you can see will succeed after only a few months.  And there are still some others that everything doesn't seem to click until year 3 and they surprise you.

 

In general though I think it takes more than 2 years to master this business, but that's true of all violin making schools too.  You have to continue your education somehow afterward.  

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I am currently a student at CSVM.  The program is designed to take 3 years 

Thanks, Tommy,

 

I should have looked up the various schools before my OP. Mittenwald is 3 1/2 years.  North Bennett Street and The Violinmaking School of America are 3 years.  I can't find the length of the course in Cremona.

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I am currently a student at the VMSA in Salt Lake. While I cannot speak of any of the other schools, I feel that I can offer my thoughts on the Salt Lake school.

The school program is designed to be completed in 3 years. All students are given a schedule and pace chart at the start of the program. The school offers instructions and classes in group settings, as well as individual one-on-one mentoring and instruction.

The current building requirement is 6 violins, 1 fractional violin, and 1 cello. Two of those violins are made during the student's graduation period in which there is no tuition paid.

The school offers music lessons, art courses, history/viewing classes, repair courses, and hosts guest lecturers very often. 

Most importantly, though, are the educators. The VMSA has three of the finest educators one could find. The goal of an education is not--in my opinion--to finish the minimum needed as quickly as possible to "pass"... The goal is to LEARN as much as possible, from the resources in front of you. I have three fantastic resources at my disposal every day--and I highly doubt I will scratch the tip of the iceberg of what they have to offer me and my fellow peers during my time here. 

So, can a school "organize" a 2 year program? If the goal was simply to build x amount of instruments--sure. But is that the goal? It's not mine...
 

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Hmm...even a trade needs some academics. I'd expect a basic music history class...and a business class as a minimum.

 

Rue,

 

You're suggesting that violin making could be integrated into a larger university curriculum.  I agree.  Judging from the presentations by the Chinese violin making educators at the 2008 VSA, that's what has happened with violin making training in China.

 

Steven Csik

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Will,

It is definitely possible to learn how to make violins in two years, however two years is not nearly enough time to learn how to make a living. I have worked with many makers from the violinmaking schools, and don't know any who can set up shop and start to compete out of the box, there is just too much to learn.. I do not believe this is any different from most professions.

As an employer of many makers and restorers, I do not expect applicants out of the schools to have the requisite skills to sit down at the bench and start to work. I do however look for a positive attitude, zeal for learning, and healthy realization that they do not yet know what they don't know. A brief look at the most successful and peer respected makers and restorers in the business will illustrate the point. These are our colleagues with years and often decades of solid training who regularly attend Oberlin, Vsa conventions and AFVBM conventions...the learning never stops.

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As a follow up, it would be very interesting to get the figures from the schools on how many graduates are working in the business 5, 10, 15, and 20 years later. I would think this would show not only about what they are teaching, but also the attitude they are instilling behind the curriculum.

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Rue,

 

You're suggesting that violin making could be integrated into a larger university curriculum.  I agree.  Judging from the presentations by the Chinese violin making educators at the 2008 VSA, that's what has happened with violin making training in China.

 

Steven Csik

Steven, can you imagine the administration of a university NOT choking the life out of a violin-making curriculum.  Having experienced both, I can't.

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Steven, can you imagine the administration of a university NOT choking the life out of a violin-making curriculum.  Having experienced both, I can't.

Not to mention the cost!

Since we happen to have quite a few highly-regarded violin makers and restorers locally, let's say the University of Michigan  decided to take this on. Tuition alone for the "academic year" for out-of-state students is about 40 thousand per year. :o

 

Total cost including housing and incidentals is estimated at 55 to 60K.

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Not to mention the cost!

Since we happen to have quite a few highly-regarded violin makers and restorers locally, let's say the University of Michigan decided to take this on. Tuition alone for out-of-state students is about 40 thousand per year. :o

That is a lot! Since we happen to be talking about Michigan, how much would the tuition be at the University of Dave?

For out-of-state students.

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That is a lot! Since we happen to be talking about Michigan, how much would the tuition be at the University of Dave?

For out-of-state students.

Since we wouldn't need to pay the president of the university 1 million per year, we could probably do it a little cheaper than U of M. ;)

 

Ohio sounds better, doesn't it? Uh oh, a former president of Ohio State was making 6 million.

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Well...I don't know if it needs to go to a University...a four year degree with a lot of electives and bookwork might not help a craftsman...but a couple of regular academic classes (in some form - even if it's computer classes based from a central on-line location) certainly would be of benefit...

 

And before anyone knocks the price of University (at a 'regular' campus...not at the most expensive example)...the kids that I know that opted for a 2-year diploma option at a non-university...but still accredited...school...paid way more tuition...and had less opportunities (as far as I'm concerned) than the kids that are taking a 4-year degree.  A huge benefit of University is being exposed to 'others'...students, teachers, different opinions, different ways of doing things, networking - but you need to take advantage of those opportunities.  If you only go to classes and then turtle home...you'll miss a huge learning opportunity as well.

 

Some of the 2-year diploma kids...knowing that their job options were still limited, even with their diploma...have transferred over to University. 

 

So one difference would be overall cost - 2 years vs. 4...so even if tuition is higher for those 2 years, the total is still less than what you'd pay for 4 years.  But then you have those job limitations to deal with.

 

If you transfer from a diploma to a degree program...you will be behind since not all classes will transfer over...but in the long-run, putting in the extra time probably pays off.  Maybe not even financially (esp. in the short term)...but in job security and in job availability.

 

Maybe a Polytech approach like electricians and plumbers have is the best way for luthiers...you take classes for 2 (or 4 or 6) months...then you apprentice.  Then you go back for more classes...then you do a journeyman's...then you do a final test...etc....

 

I'm making broad generalizations certainly...but I've been doing this long enough, I think I'm on track.

 

*p.s.

 

As far as the cost of University goes...those general figures of $40-60 thousand.. include tuition, books and living expenses.  Many people can go to University a lot cheaper.  You just have to be smart about it.  Suck it up and live at home if you can...don't buy an expensive car...go to a local University...etc. 

 

And I think I'm qualified to talk about that too...I came out of my school years with a tiny student loan, paid off promptly.  Ditto with hubby.  And we were married when I was in 2nd year...so we were living on our own...both of us students.

 

I also have 3 kids in University at the moment.  And hopefully they'll all come out if with a degree/s and no, to little, loans.  And no...I am not paying for their entire education either...they have to pay for most of it themselves.  I'm helping by supplying free room and board for whoever wants to live at home while in school.  My sons are living at home.  My daughter moved out after 2nd year...and she's still managing well by being thrifty.

 

**p.p.s.

 

Some individuals are very good at 'self-educating'...and can work well in relative isolation.  Most of us can't.  We tend to focus on what comes easily to us...and neglect what we find difficult.  School (if done properly) MAKES you learn what you need to know...not just what you find most interesting...and that way you are more rounded.

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