Documentary: Suzuki Violin at McKinley School, with Laurie Niles

October 22, 2008, 8:14 PM · I wanted to share this short documentary with my friends here at about my public teaching efforts. It was made by the wonderful documentarian, Mary Trunk, whose daughter was in my class at McKinley School, a public school in Pasadena, California. This is my children's school as well, and for two years I taught violin to lots of first graders (about 50 each year), using a modified Suzuki approach. They were complete beginners and learned everything from our twice-a-week classes. (I'm not teaching the class this year; I need a clone to get everything done!) Anyway, I'm just amazed at how Mary took all this video, sound, music, me talking...and made this lovely mini-documentary with it. She has my deepest gratitude. I hope it gives people ideas, mainly, I hope it gives people the idea that KIDS NEED MUSIC in their schools!


October 23, 2008 at 01:48 AM · I'm made very happy by watching this. You may be preaching to the choir with this, however.

If there was a way to document the improved reading and math skills, with control groups and all, it might make a difference to the folks who fund school programs. At this point, they seem to be all about testing, with little emphasis on real learning or true wisdom.

Nevertheless, a delightful video, and a worthwhile project. I was especially impressed with the use of the internet to bring the lessons into the home. Gets them where they live, so to speak.

October 23, 2008 at 02:12 AM · Laurie,

Simply wonderful, wonderful, wonderful:-)


October 23, 2008 at 08:47 AM · What a great documentary.

Now I'll have a smile on all day.


October 23, 2008 at 09:10 AM · That was fantastic, Laurie. Now I have a much better understanding of what you wrote in your blog about teaching kids by a modified Suzuki method. I see how you keep the kids motivated with games and how well they learn to play. The fact that they played the correct pitches together was very impressive. The amount of work you put into this was enormous. Where do you get all your energy? The video showed some of your great teaching skills. You had tremendous rapport with the kids, and they would follow you everywhere. Thanks so much for posting this. I loved it and learned a lot from it.

October 23, 2008 at 10:14 AM · Nice! I really admire the energy and creativity in your program. It's success is evident in the joy on those kids' faces. I particularly like the idea of the YouTube videos as reinforcement, and a great way to involve the parents. I don't know if the latter idea would work in many inner city schools where internet access at home is going to be spotty, particularly for 6-year-olds, but I would love to see programs like this in schools or afterschool programs. One of the issues of course is how to clone teachers like Laurie.

October 23, 2008 at 11:01 AM · really something. with introduction to music like this,,,hard to imagine there will be performance anxiety later. i wonder if a student is interested to learn beyond the school program, can laurie teach them privately outside?

October 23, 2008 at 12:28 PM · Fantastic video Laurie!

October 23, 2008 at 03:24 PM · FWIW, here's a link to an excerpt of Laurie's article in The Strad last month where she writes about using YouTube to help parents reinforce school music lessons.

Laurie's on the road this morning, so I'll add: One component of the Suzuki method casts the parent as the "home teacher," something that's hard to replicate when kids are getting their instruction in school, without a parent present. The YouTube videos help overcome this problem by providing the parents (and students) another way to "see" what the instructor is doing.

Also, 49 percent of our school's student body is considered "socioeconomically disadvantaged" by the State of California, but we found that Internet usage by families was almost universal. Granted, this is closest elementary school to CalTech, and some of those "socioeconomically disadvantaged" kids are children of doctoral students at CalTech and other local schools, so the environment is somewhat unique. Even so, Internet access is more common throughout economic classes that it was even a couple years ago.

October 23, 2008 at 05:00 PM · This little documentary almost made me cry, it was beautiful.

My wife is an elementary school music teacher, Scottish fiddler, and Suzuki certified through Book 4.

She has recently taken some courses in the somewhat controversial Suzuki in the schools and would like to introduce a similar program in our area. She tried but was turned down.

Is this program in Pasadena free? Do students rent violins? In my wife's school everyone was concerned that such a program would take time away from preparation for the 'No Child Left Behind' standardized testing - in Colorado called the CSAP.

How was this program proposed to the decision makers?

October 23, 2008 at 07:15 PM · Robert, Thanks for the link to the Strad article. Just one question, can members see the youtube clips Laurie made for her class? Thanks in advance.


October 23, 2008 at 07:25 PM · Robert,

P.S. I was able to find the clips under Laurie's site on youtube.


October 23, 2008 at 07:41 PM · I think your a hero just for being able to stand all those scratchy E strings! I was going crazy at the first of the video.

They had nothing like this in my elementary school. Like they made us learn the recorder and ukelele but that was pointless and went absolutely no where.

October 23, 2008 at 08:58 PM · The video clips, weekly hand-outs and support materials are online at

October 24, 2008 at 03:36 AM · Thanks again, Laurie. I've watched all your teaching videos, and I feel like I've taken a good short course in teaching.

October 24, 2008 at 02:16 PM · wow that's cool. I had wish I had discovered the violin at this age! At least, the kids who like it very much will be able to take private lessons somewhere and these who do not like it will know it and will find other activities while they are still young!



October 24, 2008 at 03:42 PM · It is just a totally lovely age to introduce the violin; they are so receptive, willing to sing and dance. It's so good to lay the foundation, so they can feel music in their bones, before they get too self-conscious about such things!

October 24, 2008 at 03:49 PM · Also, I feel violin is an ideal instrument for this, because so much has been worked out through Suzuki and other teachers, because of the availability of fractional-sized instruments, and because of the virtually unlimited potential to keep going deeper with this instrument (tons of repertoire, many genres, orchestra and chamber opportunities, etc.). They can always switch instruments, too, after this early introduction. Thank you for your comments, everyone! :)

October 24, 2008 at 04:34 PM · Its very nice Laurie,, we need music in School. Music should be must in every school and classical instruments should be introduced from the lower level of every school. That is absolutely great, cheers.

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