Help for Suzuki-method pupils to learn to read music
I was wondering whether anyone has any advice for me on the following topic: how to help a student who has learnt violin using the Suzuki method to read music? Some of these students play quite well up to a point, but I have found it difficult to help them to progress to a higher level and they seem to have difficulty in understanding key signatures, and tones and semitones.
I read somewhere - I think possibly on this site - that Suzuki pupils usually learn to read quite easily! Please would someone tell me how - I'd be incredibly grateful. Thanks and Best Wishes, Ann Hubble London, UK
"I read somewhere - I think possibly on this site - that Suzuki pupils usually learn to read quite easily!"
I think the age of your students is relevant. For the last 30 years I taught (until about 10 years ago) I used the Suzuki books, but I was not a "Suzuki teacher,"
The suzuki method, invented by Suzuki Shinichi, a Japanese educator, used to train young kids younger than seven or eight, as Japanese kids usually start musical training at a tender age of three, the emphasis of suzuki method is on playing by ear and sing the notes (both fixed do) before playing, as this training moving forward, kids who are at a sensitive age are likely to develop absolute ear (perfect pitch in other words), hence playing without score is primary while sight reading will be secondary, but I do not think this method is suitable for older learners, compared with suzuki method, maybe traditional method will be more appropriate.
Depends on the age of the student, as well as individual ability. I would not recommend teaching music reading until the student is at least 6 or 7 years old for intellectual reasons.
You didn't specify what level your students are playing/reading at, but what I do to teach music reading is start with simple note recognition, usually open strings first, then add the 1st position A/D/G major notes. I have a lap white board that students love writing on and we write notes and discuss the logic of notes moving alphabetically and how that relates to fingerboard geography (I also use some basic note flashcards). Once they have grasped this we can move on to other keys, etc,, usually starting with one octave scales. "Fiddle Time Scales" has the basic major/minor 1st position scales, plus a piece or two in each key and/or Barbara Barber's Solos for Young Violinists book 1 has a series of easyish folk songs preceded by a scale in the key of the piece which can also be helpful. For students with a basic understanding of note reading, but who are slow to read, I like the series "Teaching Technique with Beautiful Music" by Applebaum, the books have short melodic pieces, but the tunes are usually unfamiliar to students, making playing by ear more difficult. It moves pretty freely among the most common keys, so the student has to be paying attention in order to play correctly.
The will to read has to be there. Anyone can learn to read from Suzuki if they're incorporating it in as part of each consecutive piece. But if they're not TRYING to learn to read, then they won't learn to read.
There is a series of books called "I Can Read Music." They're very good. After your violin students get to a certain point, you just need to spend a little of each lesson on sight reading. Don't gasp ... piano teachers do this all the time. Study books are great for this. Pianists place a very high premium on reading because, obviously, sight reading on the piano means more than one note -- indeed, more than one clef -- at a time. I had a piano student who had learned to play to a reasonable level, but it never occurred to him how to recognize an octave by noting that one note is between staff lines and the other note has the staff line going through it. So even though double-stop sight-reading on the violin is not usually emphasized, interval recognition in passage playing is an absolutely essential sight-reading skill.
The Suzuki Method did not include music literacy materials because in Japan, all students have that covered as part of their curriculum in elementary school (and elementary school teachers are required to have piano proficiency).
It’s so hard what to suggest because we do not know the age group your teaching. However if they are ear players based on the Suzuki method and still cannot read music I’m going to say they are old enough to read period /should have been taught how to read music by now based on even the Suzuki method. But my response is still a stab in the dark based on that assumption!
@Scott: I recognize myself in the flaws you mention from some students. I have very, very good ear memory and usually I can whistle (or play at my level) any tune I listen just once. That is frustrating my teacher very much because I don't follow the sheet and it is very difficult to correct my engraved mistakes.
I can play the viola just fine and I can read alto clef. But I cannot SING in alto clef! How about that?
When I was a Suzuki student, initially reading was taught as part of the group lessons, using flashcards and the like. Then my teacher assigned sight-reading for every practice session, and we did sight-reading in lessons. We used Doflein for the sight-reading exercises.
I agree, Lydia. That's why I want to correct that mistake.
@Carlos.....I think being able to whistle/play a basic tune by ear isn’t something to correct without hearing you play. You probably have a great ear for pitch.
I agree completely. Actually from Lydia's comment I am going to start using flashcards.
Im a pianist, but this is how my girl learned to read music. She started with Suzuki at the age of 2 and after having turned 4 years and in the middle of book 1 the teacher introduced the book I can read music, which has allready been mentioned and told me to teach her to read music with it. About 3 months before that I had started to teach her the notenames and pitches, which she picked up quite easily. So prior to actual noteeeading she had a good pitch memory, which made the note reading so so much easier.
Erik is right, the desire must be there. Some students, especially if they end up drifting away from classical music early on, or don't get a lot of chances to play in groups seem to have a sort of anti-notation complex about them, where they stubbornly refuse to learn to read music. I have met some musicians ( mostly rock guitarists ) who even think that being able to read notation stifles creativity ( I wish I were exaggerating )
There are many supplementary note/sight reading materials designed for (and not only) Suzuki students
I was one of those Suzuki students who learned (back in the 80's) mostly by ear. I was in Suzuki book 4 (age 9 or 10) before I started to learn to read music, and a big part of my violin teacher's approach was to send me to piano lessons. This approach did not limit me in terms of solo pieces, but it does make it harder for me to play in ensembles. When I do occasionally play in an orchestra, the first thing I do is find recordings. Sight reading invokes terror in me to this day.
"Do you have any advice or exercise routine or book that would help an adult beginner in that regard? Would it be the same as for a kid?"
One of the things that I find really helps sightreading (and by extension, music reading in general) is working on reading rhythms away from the instrument - there's lots of different rhythm training books that you can clap through. Being able to subconsciously group notes into beats and subdivisions frees up a lot of mental space for looking at pitches, and having a rhythmic grid in place when looking at a piece can remove a lot of the "but how do I know how it goes" that paralyzes people used to learning by ear.
In an ideal world violinists would learn to play by music and by ear at the same time. Outside of classical music playing by ear is indispensable and too many trained violinists can't do it too well which is a shame. Teachers should certainly not discourage the skill if it is there. Neither should it be a one or other kind of thing - the best players can both read and play by ear. Jazz horn players in general don't seem to have this problem of being predominantly an ear player or reader - it seems to be another one of those violinist things!
@Irene: What you say is very true. Knowing my reading weakness, my teacher makes me do this before I am allowed to put the bow on the strings:
A couple of practical points:
If I may return to eye movements, in relation to note patterns and rythm,
I use teaching aids along with a supplemental book depending on their age. If it's a younger child, I start with a poster board, blank staff drawn on the board, 3 sets of alphabet refrigerator magnets A-G, and a cut out foam treble clef (know as "Mr. Cat" who sits on a fence with his belly button on the G).
Like anything, it takes practice. So a student should have some kind of reading assignment with every lesson. Another thing that helps is to play in orchestra, where you simply have to jump in and read! My students who play in orchestra - at school or in a youth orchestra - tend to progress greatly in their reading, just from that experience.
P.S. Anyone who is old enough to read words can also get started, reading music. For quite a lot of children, that's about age four. You need developmentally appropriate material (like