Is Suzuki Appropriate for Adults?

March 26, 2008 at 04:28 AM · I'm looking for a beginning violin teacher to start taking lessons again in middle-age. I only took two years of lessons in high school so many years ago, but really liked the Auer-based teaching methods at the time.

Looking around for violin teachers at my level all I can find is people who teach the suzuki method. My daughter is currently taking lessons from a suzuki teacher, and while it seems to be great for young children, I would feel more comfortable with a more traditional approach.

My question is: are there any non-suzuki violin teachers out there? A secondary question is am I making a mistake dismissing the use of suzuki for adults?


Replies (27)

March 26, 2008 at 04:53 AM · When I started violin lessons as an adult I decided consciously against suzuki and I don't regret it. Probably the most significant factor for me was that I didn't feel suzuki would do me much good improving my sight reading abilities as I knew from childhood experience that this would be my weak spot.

As for availability of non-suzuki teachers with experience in teaching adults, here where I am (Japan) it doesn't seem to be any problem, so I can't comment on that particular aspect.

March 26, 2008 at 05:06 AM · When I re-started as an adult, I took lessons from a Suzuki teacher who also taught in a "traditional" method, as well as AT. I found the combination very helpful. It really did help me in my memorization skills (you will want this later!!!) and basic approach for self-study.

March 26, 2008 at 10:59 AM · Suzuki didn't work very well for my daughter either . . . I think it may be a question of temperament as well as age.

It depends on the geographical area, maybe, but I haven't had a problem finding non-Suzuki teachers, or teachers who teach combinations of methods tailored to their individual students at community music schools.

March 26, 2008 at 12:10 PM · I see that so far no teachers have responded to your question, Michael, and probably they can answer the matter of appropriateness better than we students. From the student prospective, though, I think (as an adult beginner myself) that it depends on the musical background one has. Probably if one has no previous musical training, Suzuki from book 1 makes sense. I came to this from an organ background where one has to read three lines simultaneously, so reading one line of music for violin was no problem, but the violin itself was foreign country. My first teacher started me in book 2, which we rapidly left for book three. Both my first teacher and my current one are Suzuki teachers, but neither sticks to it exclusively, and after book 5 my present teacher said that was enough of that, and we moved on. I don't know that two teachers accurately represents what most teachers do, but perhaps using a mix of methods, Suzuki and something else, is common.

Another thing that has been of great value is playing with a others. Within a few months of starting lessons, I started playing with a small ensemble and was forced immediately to work on music that I was not ready for, at least not when compared to where I was in Suzuki. It was practice, practice work, work, work to keep up, or fall hopelessly behind. The first performances we did I spent more than a few minutes 'faking it' through difficult parts. I know this sort of pressure doesn't work for everyone; there are some family members of the members of our group who play violin or viola and they could join us, but they won't because they feel if they can't play perfectly they don't want to sit in front an an audience and maybe hit a wrong note. But for me, the combination of lessons, which happened to be Suzuki oriented at the start, and the extra push of group playing moved me along much faster than I would have done with just lessons.

Was that any help, or was I just rattling?

March 26, 2008 at 01:23 PM · There's Suzuki and there's Suzuki. The people around you may be trained/geared mainly to the strategies and components for the very young. Or they may not be Suzuki-trained at all. The Suzuki focus on playing position, bow hold, tone development, deep mastery of a limited early repertoire, and regular listening are good for beginners of any age. Keep looking and asking. There has to be someone who will take your age and opinions into account, and devise a program suitable for you. Sue

March 26, 2008 at 02:34 PM · I have been taking lessons using Suzuki approach for almost 3 years, supplemented with some youth orchestra pieces (I sit in the intermediate ensemble..I am one of a few adults who play in the group). It is wonderful and I take full advantage of the private lessons, group opportunities, and solo opportunities. I am learning to read music too, but I really see the benefit in memorizing pieces, because then I can work on the SOUND and refine skills! Erica

March 26, 2008 at 02:36 PM · I've been teaching using the Suzuki books as the "core" of my approach since I first picked up some poorer, drop-out students of a very fine Suzuki program around 1975. Before that I used more "traditional"methods based on how I had been taught in New York City in the 1940s. (By the way, my traditional (Italian) teacher had me learn "Twinkle" as the very first goal, when I was 4-1/2 in 1939 - that may well be what sold me on Suzuki.)

I found that I really liked the Suzuki books bacause of their approach to beginning technique and the musical nature of the pieces in the books. I do not use the memorization approach, and I make no claims to being a quaolified "Suzuki teacher."

I find that in the early books, the Suzuki pieces are graded to introduce a single new technical concept in each piece -- later there may be several concepts (or variations of a single concept) inroduced in a piece. The order in whiich these are introduced is good, in my opiniion.

I find that with beginning children (I will not take anyone less than 5 years old) the approach is one of self-imposed memorization and rote learning -- although by keeping the music open and using ways to code it to their instruments, fingers, and bowing some seem to "slide" into reading music during the first year.

I supplement the Suzuki music with challenge-appropriate studies and pieces from multiple other sources. I base my selection of other music on what is giving the student problems. If a particular student has no problems, I don't bother to supplement -- other than selecting additional solo or duet/chamber works for them to enjoy. There always comes some point when additional music is required for the training process - everybody has a "stopping point" to get past (at least so far).

Using this method on adults has worked quite well. I've brought one 20-something man through violin book 4 in 10 months and a woman of the same age to cello book 6 in the same time. But they are exceptions - it usually takes much longer. These two people could both "read music" when the started.

Adults have "rational resources" that help them move faster through some early techincal issues than children (prefrontal cortex and all that). But some adults have incorrect preconceived notions that cn get in their way (kids start to get into thiis kind of problem around age 10 or so - so it's good to get them past these things before that age).

In that town where I first started using the Suzuki books, the real Suzuki program was really wonderful (Anne Akkiko Meyers came from that program - she played solos with our community orchestra when she was very young) and their annual Suzuki concerts were as good as anything you might see on PBS or in the movie "Small Wonders."

Our community orchestra had teen players who had started with Suzuki, and they were very fine, and had become outstanding sight readers. Usually the best of them had been advised to head down to LA for traditional teachers about the time they finished book 5, but I think that was partly due to the local teachers' concerns that their own technical abilities were not up to these students future learning requirements.

March 27, 2008 at 03:47 AM · Not too long ago, I met a guy in his 70's who had been taking Suzuki lessons for two or three years. He was a lifelong professional woodwind player, saxophone, IIRC, so he knew music well to start with, but had never played strings at all before. I was really impressed with his mastery in so short a time. I would have thought he'd been a serious amateur string player all his life.

For him, Suzuki was clearly appropriate, but I think he had a pretty special teacher, too.

March 27, 2008 at 03:55 AM · I am also an adult beginner. My teacher (for me at least)uses Suzuki for repertoire, supplment by alot of other stuff (scales, other more challenging pieces, wolfhart etudes), I have some piano background, so sight reading is not an issue for me. But no, we do not use the Suzuki method strictly, but I do agree that every piece in Suzuki brings some new technique. I consider myself taking the traditional approach. I would not be happy using the Suzuki method solely as an adult.

March 27, 2008 at 05:06 AM · Consider the teacher more than the method. Do you trust each other, can you work together, does the teacher have expertise?

I've started adults with the Suzuki method, and this has been helpful getting them set up and playing fluidly before they start burying their face in the music. I start music reading about half-way through Book 1, with everyone, using completely different "methods," depending on the age of the students. (For really young kids I use the large-type, very simplified "I Can Read Music" before getting them into a traditional method book. Older kids, traditional method book. Everyone, I try to eventually get them into Doflein). I continue to simultaneously teach Suzuki and traditional, until it eventually all fades into traditional, somewhere after Book 6 or so.

At any point in time I reserve the right to go completely off the reservation; play fiddle tunes if it helps, John Lennon, whatever. But always this combination: something for polishing, memorizing and performing (the Suzuki piece, performance pieces); something for technique (scales, double stops, etudes); something for learning rapidly and turning the page every week (Doflein, etudes, orchestra music, fiddle tunes).

March 27, 2008 at 01:09 PM · Hi,Laurie, Want to start a school sometime? Your description is SO my curriculum. I do seem to be getting everybody into a theory workbook eventually, too. Sue

March 27, 2008 at 03:24 PM · Indeed, the theory workbook became a part of the mix this year when I made all my students do "Certificate of Merit," a masochistic but useful program offered by the Music Teachers Association of California. Mostly masochistic for the teacher! The kids had to take a level-appropriate theory exam and play several pieces, scales, and etude for a judge. It was a big effort, but I think I'll be able to make it fairly seamless year-by-year, as I get better at planning for it.

March 27, 2008 at 05:33 PM · As an adult beginner, I have found my teacher's well-rounded approach of traditional methods (Auer and others), Suzuki AND theory to be invaluable. They each bring something important to the table.

March 27, 2008 at 05:34 PM · I started the Suzuki method in a group class so my experience may be different. But I learned how to play the songs based on finger positions (1 on A, 3 on A etc...) not by knowing the notes themselves. I also learned the song by ear, listening to it and try to match the beat, not by properly rendering the music as it was written. Since leaving I have started using a metronome and used white out to remove the "hints" at the top of the music for finger positons at my teachers direction. All in all I was probably playing songs quicker with Suzuki but not able to read music, and my rythym was completely off. We still use the books I have though but also incorporate Hrimaldy Scale Studies and use a metronome.

April 16, 2008 at 10:59 PM · Greetings,

Emily, I think we shoudl agree to ignore David until he learns to use this board in an apprpriate manner or leaves.



April 17, 2008 at 03:05 AM · David who? ;)

April 17, 2008 at 04:09 AM · Sue wrote: There's Suzuki and there's Suzuki.

I agree so don't throw the baby out with the bath. I switched from a Suzuki teacher and my traditional teacher thought my bow hold, posture, etc. was really solid. Real Suzuki teachers seem to let students read notes and all that essential stuff. As someone posted a "hybrid" approached worked for me but my reading was reasonably solid. Good Luck

September 26, 2008 at 03:54 AM · I feel that using the Suzuki book and a combination of other books is very helpful.

Volume One of the Leopold Auer Method has numerous combination of bowing patterns on open strings. A student can use this as a guide to develop a really nice tone.

I think that a beginning adult student should realize that there are many aspects to learning how to play the violin. Different teachers emphasize different things. The student should make it clear to the teacher exactly what he wants. Does he want to start by playing beautiful, leagato tones on open strings, or does want to play with a short amount of bow and learn to play fast soooner? Does he want to entirely use his ear to find pitches on the violin, or does he want the teacher to put tapes on the violin to help him find the notes? Do some research ahead of time, and let your teacher guide you. If you don't like your sound, ask your teacher how you can make the tone better. If you don't want to concentrate on being so perfect, tell you teacher.

As a teacher, I find it difficult to keep a happy medium of how much to tell someone without discourageing him. On the otherhand, if the student is always sef-crictical, that can be frustraing, too.

Whatever method, it is very rare for an adult to catch on to how to make a professional sound right away, and I think that is why some adults quit. No matter what method an adult uses to begin, his greatest obstacle is himself. An adult must think of himself as a child who is beginning to play the violin. Of course an adult can reason, but a lot of violin playing is intuitive. The Suzuki method may seem easier, but that is because the student is using less bow and has tapes on the violin. It is hard to play a beautiful sustained tone, and really listen to yourself, and instinctively train yourself to manipulate the violin so that you can make a good sound. . .

I do not believe there are bad teachers or that any method is better than any other. Different teachers work on different aspects, and a good teacher will help you reach your goals.

October 10, 2008 at 07:09 PM · i think a more if not the most fundamental issue facing a student, is not necessarily suzuki or not, but the quality of the teaching.

a good, open minded and wise teacher, focusing on one method, yet fully aware of the merits of other methods, should be able to cater to the specific need of each individual student.

when someone researches and concludes one method is better than others, it may or may not apply to you, simply because the researcher does not know you.

October 10, 2008 at 07:06 PM · Pretty much every Suzuki teacher uses audiation in teaching by rote in the beginning, yes? That's the point! Actually, one can use audiation always, as a beginner, as an advancing student, as a pro.

So I don't get what you are saying!

Are you trying to argue that beginners don't really "understand" what they are hearing in their heads, even when they go on produce it in tune, with all the right notes and good tone? They do! They also go on to read music quite well, if you teach them to!

Anyway. Suzuki is a philosophy, not a method.

October 10, 2008 at 08:09 PM · I havent read through the others comments but I saw Laurie's as it was the last before mine, and I'm guessing there's an arguement going on?

But anyway... I get where your coming from. I started taking lessons last october when i was 14. I started in suzuki 3, and by the time I was to 5,I hated it to death. I didnt like the way pieces were arranged and edited, I didn't like how there would be very easy pieces in book 5 and how there were more difficult pieces in 4 etc.

So I told the teacher I wanted something different, and just focus on a repertoire, scales, etudes and technique... So I'm sure you can go to these teachers and say you want to switch it up, and if it's a good teacher, they'll be willing to work with you.

When I chose a piece, I picked it because it had things I needed to learn... When I picked The Lark Ascending, It had many things I needed to learn like shifting to the end of the finger board, very fast fingerings, and difficult double stops and octaves. When I picked Vitali Chaconne, I picked it because 1) I loved the sound and mood of the piece 2) It had many bowings I needed to learn 3) It had otaves and high double stops and 4) Learning this piece made me think about dynamics more, and made them stay in control.

So basically, pick something that works for you, and find a teacher who's willing to work that way.

October 10, 2008 at 08:47 PM · Well, just because someone SAYS it exists, doesn't mean it DOES exist. "The term audiation was coined in 1979 by music education researcher Edwin E. Gordon. [He] criticizes traditional-minded educators for not directly teaching audiation, which he views as the foundation of musicianship." wikipedia.

Seems like another self professed guru. It may well be part of what forms the musical foundation, no way of knowing how much. Successful students will be held up as the result of the teaching approach, family support, genetics, serendipity, all sorts of reasons why some people can proceed to one level and others stay at another.

I suspect there were many fine musicians on the scene prior to 1979, and I doubt that they would have employed anything like a formal learning of 'audiation' - an example, -Tommy Emmanuel - I remember seeing him when he was 15, playing with Slim Dusty. Not formally instructed but he just oozed this incredible musical line.

As to a Suzuki vs other approach. As an adult, I guess I have followed a similar path to Paul above - not so quickly though - and used the pieces to teach technique. In particular those Handel Sonatas. That in itself is a bit similar to Suzuki, I think as Laurie and others said, its more the teacher than the materials.

October 10, 2008 at 11:53 PM · Suzuki is an Ok place to start as are other approaches. I think it depends on how orthodox the teacher is and if they only teach kids. I found my first Suzuki teacher very rigid and wanted me to memorize and take group lessons like I was a little kid. No can do so I left. I went to another Suzuki teacher who was more flexibile and it worked out quite well. We do many things that are not Suzuki based but it is all good if the balance and teacher are right for you. Call the teacher's other adult students and see how they are doing.

October 11, 2008 at 07:20 AM · Lots of people teach using the Suzuki materials, but don't get share in the philosophy. It's only a problem when potential students/parents are mislead into believing that they are actually receiving Suzuki training when in fact all they are doing is going through printed material in some/any fashion.

The manner in which music fundamentals are taught to beginners in the Suzuki way make a lot of sense when students are ages 3-6. However, anyone older than that doesn't learn the same way, and thus and understanding of what a student can and cannot grasp intellectually at their current stage of development is critical.

While my adult beginners definitely get exposed to the materials (books 1-3 mainly, before we flat out move on to other things), I don't use any of the same methods as I would with say, my first and second grade beginners.

October 11, 2008 at 05:42 PM · Suzuki for adults is fine, but you have to call the song, "Mississippi Quiche."

October 13, 2008 at 01:25 AM · I started out with Suzuki, but (as is often the case) in a modified format - particularly when it came time to make the switch over to reading music. It is one of the most popular and successful teaching philosophies around that can be identified by name. There are many things right about it, and many things wrong about it.

Suzuki does employ certain aspects of audiation. In fact, it is impossible to learn music without some type of audiation. The advantage that Suzuki has over 'traditional methods' - particularly for younger students - is that the learning sequence in Suzuki is closer to the optimal order as discovered by Gordon.

I said 'discovered' because the crux of Gordon's work is that he actually researched it. I don't know his personality, so he may very well be a pompous twit for all I know. Furthermore, there are definitely people in music education who think the worst of him on a philosophical level. However, to label him a "self-professed guru" is neither accurate nor fair. No one outside of Music Learning Theory has conducted the type and degree of research on the subject of music education that Gordon has. (I'm not saying that no one else has researched it from another point of view, but those other perspectives pale in comparison to his thoroughness.)

It was mentioned that there were undoubtedly good musicians prior to 1979. I think this misses the point, which is why one should look beyond Wikipedia for their information. Gordon's research was designed to find out how people in general can best achieve their musical potential by studying the process of learning.

Bringing this back to Suzuki, Gordon recognized that Suzuki's "mother tongue" approach had definite advantages in the area of early childhood musicianship. In fact, MLT is essentially the music equivalent of the current best practices in language literacy.

Where Suzuki fails a bit is that there is little room for improvisation. The teaching of songs from the Suzuki books is done very systematically with little room for interpretation. However, that has more to do with those who have taken up the official Suzuki teaching than with what Suzuki himself advocated.

Essentially, Suzuki's main contributions are things that today seem like common sense:

a) the earlier you start, the more receptive you are to learning, and

b) to serve the largest number of people (and not just those with the greater musical gifts), it's better to start without reading music.

I suspect, however, that success for adults in learning with a 'traditional method' is that it engages the intellectual process, which is typically more developed than the musical process. The research upon which "note first" instruction is based does point to this likelihood.

October 13, 2008 at 04:55 PM · You don't need the Susuki Methode. I know it can be good but if you are serious about music and want to go right to the point, you can use a traditionnal methode. BUT be sure to listen to a lot of music to develop your "violin" sound in your head and try to see with your teacher what actually does this sound (technically I mean). It would be a good Idea to have a few ear training and theory courses. It helps a lot!!! (just to learn the basics once again without loosing time if you are older). What susuki does is mostly developing your ear and feeling of the instrument but you can develop these with good teachers and with listening things on your own if you have an adult "seriousness" and don't need to always turn everything in a game.


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