Suzuki and reading music

January 9, 2007 at 06:47 PM · What is the general consensus about using the Suzuki books and reading music? The books don't show the student to read music until about book 4. How do people feel about this? Do you think this helps or hinders the students?

Replies (28)

January 9, 2007 at 08:01 PM · I use the Suzuki literature but don't teach strictly Susuki method. I generally teach older kids and adults. I think that reagrdless of the method violin students should be taught to read whenever they are old enough. It is dependent on the student more than on the method in my opinion.

January 9, 2007 at 08:25 PM · I like everything about Suzuki. I began when I was in diapers on a keyboard with numbered notes. It doesn't replace advanced work, but is very solid especially for a generalist.

Reading music can come with immersion--I know this because it's happening with me. One concern might be in de-emphasizing notes, one might not emphasize counting enough, but this could in reverse be a strenth as well, freeing the teacher to focus on timing at first.

January 9, 2007 at 08:37 PM · Greetings,

if you use the ethod as Suzki taught it you will have rel probles later on. I know studnets of the great man who went on to be professionals and still have truble in this area. But the truth is nowadays I think everybody is aware of this and it is soethign of a dead issue. Reading music is prefectly compatible with the Suzuki method and is commonplace. The ethod itslef has continued to evolve as the teachers have dedicated themselves to constant improvement.It is only where one blindly and uincritically stick to a right method that stulification occurs.



January 9, 2007 at 10:30 PM · Buri is correct that this is rather a dead horse where Suzuki method is concerned. It isn't read/don't read, it's delay reading until other things are intact, including the lovely deep tone and great by-ear skills many Suzuki students have. In Japan, it is not that unusual for a 6 or 8 year-olds to be playing book 4. Those who are going to get through all 10 books tend to do so by about 13, when the demands of Japanese-style high school education tend to curtail many players' music study. In the states, many begin their Suzuki studies some years older, so it makes sense that reading is introduced earlier in the books. Also, Suzuki kids here have access to public school programs with orchestras, or kid community-orchestras, neither of which are available in Japan. Sue

January 10, 2007 at 02:37 AM · I never used the Suzuki method, but I did start without reading sheet music for the first few months. When I first took my school viola home in the 3rd grade, the "Star Wars" vinyl was just released. I played the theme over and over again working it out on my viola just by ear. If my memory still serves me right, it did help alot when the sheet music was put before me to read. I related a note on the page with the sound it made. To this day when I learn a new piece, I listen to a recording, then follow along with reading the sheet music then miming the movements (left and right hand) before I ever pick up the viola and try it for real. At least for me, it is a fast track to learning something new.

January 10, 2007 at 03:36 AM · I started with Suzuki (not the man himself!) at 4 and didn't read music until 4 years later. I'm not sure how I would have learned if my parents hadn't taught me. It was a painful process in the beginning, but they more or less made me sight-read different things day after day, which was the complete opposite of what I loved to do... hear things and play them!

I don't think I needed to know how to read before that point, so it worked out fine. As others have said, there's no incompatibility. That just wasn't a focus of the method as it was originally devised. The benefits of learning by ear have already been stressed by others, and I second them. Reading is a layer added on top of that, and I believe the timing is not critical.

January 10, 2007 at 04:48 AM · The Suzuki books don't actually teach reading per se; it's up to the teacher to do that. Most Suzuki teachers I know (that would be scores of teachers) use different literature for reading, as the students are listening to the Suzuki literature and already too aurally familiar with it to learn much new from "reading" their Suzuki books.

For a teacher, the Suzuki books themselves are simply collections of literature, put together in a rather nice sequence (and often begging different fingerings and bowings ;) ) But without study and training in the Suzuki philosophy, the books reveal precious little about the "Suzuki method."

January 10, 2007 at 04:15 PM · When I started Suzuki at age 4, my teacher didn't let me read anything until I was in the 6th grade when my school system started orchestra. If it hadn't been for my piano lessons, I would have played violin for 8 years without ever knowing how to read a bit of music.

That being said, for the 12 years I had this teacher, she never once corrected a bit of my intonation and maybe once a month gave me a bit of constructive criticism. I was frustrated with her for years before my mom ever let me change, and that was only when I decided I wanted to major in music.

January 10, 2007 at 06:02 PM · cognitively and physically, the difference between a 3 and a 4 yo is much larger than that of a 13 and a 14 yo. some 3 yo are quite good with numbers and letters and symbols and thought processing, some are not there yet.

if not suzuki, someone else will come up with another system to explore this transition in evolution in young kids. shall we teach what we can geared toward whatever capacity that is open, or shall we match playing along with score reading? can we just teach him to play on the fiddle first since reading the scores is driving everyone up the wall? often, it is more of a matter of convenience and practicality than necessarily by design or even merit.

in the long run it probably does not matter. BUT, a kid who does not read score much but can play much more advanced will have an advantage of getting attention from better teachers and sent onto a different route. between a kid that plays well and reads poorly and a kid that plays poorly but reads score well, my bias is that some teachers will play favorite toward the former. it is human nature (but shame on you:).

this sequential teaching is similar to golf and many other sports where you challenge a very young kid to land the ball at a spot. the kid swings, swings, swings, and with time he gets better. but not good enough, not consistent enough. then, when the maturity is there, you talk about the mechanics, to study not only what to do, but why and the alternatives.

now, if you are training a kid to be a spelling bee champion, that will be a totally different story:)

January 11, 2007 at 12:22 AM · When American teachers went to Japan to study with Suzuki, they learned that he did not teach his students to read violin music until Book 4, however, they did not realize that all Japanese students learned to read music in school. Therefore, by Book 4, all students knew most of what there was to know concerning reading music, and all they had to do was apply what they already knew to the violin.

It is unfortunate that this truth about Japanese culture was unnoticed by American teachers learing the Suzuki method.

Edit: Thanks, Buri! It is good to hear another opinion, especially from someone who has first-hand experience in Japan. I agree that a poor ability to sight-read is very detrimental. Personally, I teach Suzuki, but begin notereading around May Song...depending on the student, of course.

January 10, 2007 at 08:36 PM · Greetings,

Jenna thats a good p;oint but it isn't strictly coorect. The music lessons are omewhat rudimentary and also it is likely taht stduents are looking at the printed page with minimal procesisng whilethe teacher repeatedly pounds out the elody on th epiano. Ther eis also the question of quality and regularity of teaching. So yes, the clai taht Suzuki studnets in Japan have sertious diifuclty with soght reading and reading in general is essentially true.Except where the teacher has focuse don this problem



January 10, 2007 at 11:53 PM · I believe Laurie is right. It is all up to the teacher. A good Suzuki teacher should take it upon themselves to also introduce music reading skills as well. I have never taken Suzuki although when I began violin in 4th grade, our teacher used the books for repertoire. I sort of went in and out of them through middle school for repertoire to study. I know quite a few musicians who are wonderful sight-readers even though they began in Suzuki. However, I know quite a few that can't process music fast enough in their heads. Each student is different and each teacher should tailor their teachings slightly for individuals. However, I think that across the board it is important to learn to read music while learning the techniques of the violin. Nowadays, we don't just want good technicians but also good musicians.

January 11, 2007 at 12:41 AM · Although Suzuki is a good method. I don't recommend this. I have a friend who has been using Suzuki, he is now in the 5th book. He has a problem reffering to notes by their name. He'll say: "two on the D" "high two on the D" He has to think about note names. In the end they will become dependant on that system. I referred once to a high D, meaning a D above "middle D". He thought I meant a low one on the D. I feel sorry for him and we debate many times about the best method. I have not yet found a replacement, but I personally do not recommend Suzuki.

January 11, 2007 at 05:31 PM · > The books don't show the

> student to read music

> until about book 4.

The books are not the primary source of instruction in the Suzuki Method, the teachers are! Note-reading is introduced by a teacher when appropriate for the student (at the age when they begin to recognize and interpret symbols, i.e. the alphabet).

In the same vein, Ivan Galamian, in the very first chapter of "Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching" makes it very clear that no amount of written documentation can replace the teacher-student relationship and the learning potential that it provides.

>Although Suzuki is a good method.

>I don't recommend this.

Time and time again, the Suzuki method is unjustifiably criticized because of issues such as this. When are people going to realize that it is flawed and/or inadequate teaching that leaves us with students who can't read notes, and not a result of using any particular source material?

The teacher who is responsible for your "friend" that is unable to read notes needs to train him and develop that skill.

January 11, 2007 at 07:22 PM · A couple of "fine points" that I feel I must put forth:

* "Note reading" and "sight reading", in my mind, are two different things. Note reading is the ability to recognize notes and understand what is to be played by looking at printed music, while sight reading is the ability to do so at speed. I can sight read a lot of pretty advanced stuff on the violin or when singing, but I can't say the same on the piano. Note reading, or reading music, is independent of the instrument. Sight reading requires a much higher degree of coordination.

* Note names are independent of the ability to internally comprehend written music. The friend described above who refers to an F# as "high 2 on the D" probably can sight read as well as (if not better than) someone who refers to the same note as an F#. However, note names are indispensible when trying to communicate this understanding to others.

It will probably always take an extra step to translate "high 2 on the D" to "F#", but it's not like you have to chant "D-E-F#-F#, E-F#-G-G" while you're playing in orchestra. It's better to play the notes correctly first than to know the note name and flub the finger.

At least, that's how I hear it.

January 11, 2007 at 08:13 PM · I would doubt that anyone refering to f sharp as a high 2 on the D string is a good sight reader.What happens in the higher pèositions or is playing firmly fixed in first posdition?

January 11, 2007 at 08:17 PM · i just hope vince does not read this thread or there will be discovery for another lawsuit againist the teachers, LOL.

January 12, 2007 at 05:33 AM · For Suzuki teachers I widely recommend to use note reading book "I Can Read Music" by Joanne Martin. These books (there are two volumes) are easy to study for any age. Some time ago, Laurie mentioned already these books but don't remember in which thread.

January 12, 2007 at 09:08 PM · This is my first day on this site and my first day with my new (rented) violin. I start lessons in a few days. I am 45 years old and have never played before. I can read only the most basis music.

What would you recommend in terms of learning for someone my age and inability:). I am excited to enter the world of music. I've always loved the violin but just decided to try and play for myself. I hope I enjoy playing as much as I love listening.

January 13, 2007 at 03:38 AM · Hey Joseph--I started at 44.. I would recommend first, listening to your teacher--there's too many opinions out there. Next, I would learn, over time, to use resources like this to learn and listen.

Every single thing I've been taught has been refuted at one point or another (not particularly here, but in violin world in general). So, get with your program and stick with it.

Next, I would suggest finding (google Hillary Hahn practice advice) Hillary Hahn and Itzhak Perlman's advice on practicing slowly and read it every day for the first two months.

Then I would suggest starting slowly and only practicing exactly what your teacher is showing you for no more than 30 minutes a day for the first couple months as well--as temping as it is to play and play and play--trust me, that is experience talking.

The two best places on the net for advice is here, and at Next, might be Beginning Adult Violin Students (BAVS) over at Yahoo groups.

Also, as an adult beginner, I think I would look seriously at what Kurt Sassmannshaus is teaching in the violinmasterclass videos, and maybe work with your teacher on these if possible--Teacher's call. But at a minimum, understand what all the left and right hand elements being taught there are saying and understand that there, is the basic set of elements you will need down the road--in a nicely structured environment. It is easy for adults to get lost in the mix, and not know where the teacher is going.

Finally, google: University of Hawaii Adult Learning and read the essay there about the qualities you are brining to the mix, rather than depending on urban legends of 'can'ts'....

Also, at BAVS are some resources especially for adult learners.

Good luck--you can do this.

p.s. I like Suzuki.

January 13, 2007 at 04:49 AM · Rita Livs wrote:

For Suzuki teachers I widely recommend to use note reading book "I Can Read Music" by Joanne Martin. These books (there are two volumes) are easy to study for any age. Some time ago, Laurie mentioned already these books but don't remember in which thread.

I second this recommendation. These books are excellent. I taught all four of my kids to read music using Martins books when they were in about Suzuki Book II. (This was outside of their lesson times. Their teachers didn't address sight-reading and note-reading, and we didn't want them to. It was easy enough for me to teach them and to use the lesson time for material I couldn't teach them.

January 13, 2007 at 05:57 PM · I agree that it depends on the teacher. I had one suzuki teacher tell me she doesn't start the children on note reading until they can add, subtract, multiply and divide... never-the-less I pulled my child out when she was at the age that I felt she could read music.

The next traditional teacher used Suzuki as a supplement, but I whited out the fingerings, otherwise they are using those as a crutch instead of reading music.

I do feel that Suzuki does benefit in developing a really good ear and is great for the very young student.

I always tell people to be really involved in their students' lessons and ask questions if they are concerned

January 14, 2007 at 05:12 PM · I'm one of those students who can't quickly name the note... But I know where my finger is supposed to be when I see it on the page. I'm wondering how exactly knowing the name of the note is going to help when playing above first position?


January 15, 2007 at 07:57 PM · It depends on how you think of the note.Can you hear the sound before you play it?Not all countries use the same note names but if you are thinking only in terms of fingers then it is very limiting as the fingering is different in different positions.If you are thinking sequentially ,recognising the intervals and hearing the notes before you play them then it is not really important what you call them.Having said that most people who can do the above can usually give a name to the note as well.

January 15, 2007 at 10:52 PM · Janet... I can't hear the note before I play it. In fact I get a pleasant surprise sometimes when I play because I don't know what the sound is going to be until I play it. Especially with accidentals. They sound right but not right if you know what I mean. When they happen I hear it and think "that's neat!"

January 15, 2007 at 11:21 PM · Greetings,

if you can`t hear a note before you play it then I am afraid you will never exploit your full potential on the instrument. However frustrating it may seem one really should stop at this point and ask how to establish this absolutely fundamentla requisite of playing. You could take solfeggio lessons but there are plenty of good ear training books around these days including cds.

Playing without preheairng is equavlent to driving blindfolded.



January 16, 2007 at 12:02 AM · Buri,

Maybe that explains the terrified look on my teachers face. ;)

Sadly, my potential on the instrument and the potential of the instrument are (probably) not the same thing.

January 16, 2007 at 12:53 AM · Greetings,

Craig, on the whole I have found most people’s potential on the instrument to be much greater than they realize.

There are a number of obstructions that seem to perennially get in the way, many of them to do with the teacher rather than the student. In particular I can’t stand it when adult students are not taken seriously.

One of the confusing things about the kinds of talk that goes on in these lists, or in whatever resource one pleases is the plethora of complex looking and often contradictory information. Where is the beginner supposed to start? If teacher A says xyz and teacher B says zyx who do you believe? and so on.

However, there are a number of basic generalizations that underlie all methods and approaches of teaching /playing and it is up to the teacher to ensure that this bare minimum is in place. For example

1) Ease and comfort whatever you are doing.

2) Play in tune from the beginning.

3) Produce a good sound from the beginning.

4) Enjoy what you are doing.

5) Think ten times play once IE =Never - practice a mistake.

6) Identify exactly where a problem is.

7) Break a problem down into the lowest common denominator. (Often separating hands)

There are a few more , but what underlies many of them is that the mind leads. This is where adults can score so strongly against kids if they really work at it. The violin is, however sexy one feels it is in the hands, ultimately just a tool to express the voice which is an expression of heart/soul/mind. So if one doesn’t start with what you wish to express, the voice etc then one is making the red queen look positively productive. You really do deserve better.



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