How do they do it?!

February 10, 2011 at 03:17 AM ·

Usually people ask why Suzuki students can’t read music (though I understand most actually do, just not first thing.) My question is, why don’t they need to? Seriously, I teach lots of beginners from kindergarten on up, I have book 1 training though I’m not a Suzuki teacher per se, do a lot of things similarly though, and do stress a lot of ear training. I usually teach reading parallel with finger technique so by the time they finish Twinkle they can start playing simple songs from the written page. But that’s not the point; the thing that gets me is that I don’t think I could wait to teach reading even if I wanted to. As the pieces get more and more complicated, how do you teach all those details without having a page of music to refer to? I really would love to know! 

(Here’s my personal reason, aside from pure curiosity: Occasionally I get a Suzuki student who transfers into my studio at book 2 level or so, still can’t read, and I really have a hard time with the transition because I don’t know how to teach that way at that level. We kind of go into a holding pattern until we get the reading down enough to really get going again. What I would rather do is be able to keep moving them forward with the wonderful musical skills they have developed, and build reading skills on a parallel track till we can put them together. I am getting better but….would love some thoughts here from the experts. Really! How do you do it?)

Replies (38)

February 10, 2011 at 04:25 AM ·

Agreed.  Although I don't teach, and although I didn't learn by the Suzuki method, I keep hearing one success story after the other; so its founder, Shin'ichi Suzuki, was definitely on to something.  I, too, would love to hear what the experts on this subject have to say.  For now, let me offer something from my own background and viewpoint as a learner.

As a child beginner and a traditional, non-Suzuki pupil, I came to violin from an elementary piano background, already able to read treble and bass.

Before my first lessons, I was already fingering and bowing simple music on a small fiddle -- first by ear, then by reading.  I couldn't explain now how I managed this without lessons, but somehow I did.  Still, I always felt a great need to see the music so that I could get a more precise idea -- on my own -- of what I was supposed to do.

This ability to read helped me a great deal in my own study and practice between lessons.  And, to this day, it has definitely helped me to teach myself new material.

My first teacher started me on 3rd position about 10-12 weeks after beginning lessons.  I clearly remember reading page by page through Harvey Whistler's Introducing the Positions, Volume I, which covers III and V, to see what was coming next.  The precocious, geeky side of me just wouldn't let me put the book down.

And I couldn't wait to leaf through Volume II, which covers II, IV, VI, VII, and higher.  I could see the logical progression.  I was fascinated -- and I was hooked.  So, going from my own experience, it's hard for me to think in terms of learning the instrument without being able to read the notes.  But …?

Again, can't wait to hear the input on this.

February 10, 2011 at 04:55 AM ·

Suzuki's famous observation was that of the similarity between language and music, especially as it pertains to really young children.  I bet if you think about it, both your earliest and most frequent exposure to words and grammar came not from a textbook, but by imitating your parents or by learning to hold your own in a conversation with the appropriate idioms and conventions, for instance, the way pitch rises at the end of a question.  Even if you're a voracious reader, you probably had a grasp of basic sentences (not just the way they sound either, but the way it feels to say them) before you actually learned to recognize them in print.

February 10, 2011 at 05:35 AM ·

Actually, it's because of the gold star you get when you do a good job. I got one today, from my teacher, and had no difficulty remembering my piece after that (granted, it's about 4 bars long, but whatever!).

But more seriously, my teacher, who teaches my daughter as well, did emphasize the importance of listening to the piece over and over, as one hears one's mother tongue over and over, in order to develop that degree of comfort with music  and playing music that the suzuki children have. My daughter is five and she is very quickly "picking up" those short tunes.

February 10, 2011 at 06:12 AM ·

How could I forget the power of gold stars??? :)

February 10, 2011 at 09:46 AM ·

Of course people who have not ever learnt to read music well have the disadvantage that they can never comfortably join in at a string quartet session, or an orchestra, because they simply can't read the parts well enough. They may miss out a few notes at sight, as most of us do, but the biggest problem is that they get lost as they have not learnt to latch on to all the sign posts that come up, like cadences, tutti sections and the like.

I know many advanced students whose careers have been hindered by not being good at sightreading.

I learnt to read music before I played the fiddle, by teaching myself the recorder (NO, that's not a tape recorder!!)

As for Sazuki - I may be in a minority but I've yet to be convinced of its value.


February 10, 2011 at 11:44 AM ·

My personal experience:

I teach violin, viola and cello over 7 days, 50+ hours weekly. My students are in top positions in school and youth orchestras. They are required to play in school orchestras, audition for youth orchestras, play chamber music, perform in recitals and competitions.

I teach the Traditional European Method. Local and area Suzuki teachers hate me, since I get many of their students that are tired of having their intelligence insulted (their most common complaint) by being tethered to the teacher (for spoon-feeding) or recordings (for copying one officially-sanctioned interpretation; I know that's not the goal, but that's how it's perceived).

I'm not interested in potential ("talent") but commitment to personal excellence regardless of individual starting point. I encourage and expect: discipline, perseverance, goal-setting, attention to detail, self-actualization through awareness, honest self-assessment and effective questioning, ability to learn and teach oneself, overcome obstacles, harness frustration. Ability develops when character develops.

My biggest problem is dropping under-performing students to make room for highly motivated ones from my waiting list. Students know that if they don't make time to practice, I don't have time to teach them. Many take hour long or double weekly lessons (the successful European model). I haven't done any marketing in years, it's all word of mouth - moms love to brag about their advancing little darlings...

My students start in Grades K-4, and my curriculum is, in a nutshell:

1st year: correct posture (with "mature" bowhold), note reading, pitch awareness through aural training, basic music theory, warm-ups, rhythm patterns, bowings (single, slurs, hooks, retakes), basic finger patterns, 1-octave scales and arpeggios, effective practice routines. Sight-reading and ensemble playing (rounds, canons).

2nd year: fine-tune and expand on above-mentioned concepts and skills. 2-octave scales and arpeggios (up to 4 accidentals) with rhythm and bowing patterns (slurs up to 8 notes/bow). Some Schradieck, Yost, basic Sevcik; Wohlfahrt and Sitt etudes, mostly in 1st and 3rd position. 1- and 2-page pieces including 3rd position (violin/viola). Sight-reading and ensemble playing.

3rd year: All 12 3-octave Major scales and arpeggios (up to 21 notes/bow in scales). Dancla Ecole de Mechanisme, Hrimaly, Schradieck. Etudes: Wohlfahrt, Sitt, Dancla, Kayser, Alard, de Beriot. Concertinos and Sonata/Concerto movements (Rieding, Portnoff, Essek, Beer, Kuchler, Huber, Bach Double, Breval, Vivaldi, etc). Sight-reading and ensemble playing.

4th year: All 24 3-octave scales and arpeggios (M/m, 6/4, 6/3, dim., V7); double stops, harmonics. More etudes. Pieces in 1/2-7th positions up to Mozart G major Concerto, Accolay, Seitz. Sight-reading and ensemble playing.

As far as I'm concerned, Suzuki is the 3rd most common name in Japan and a manufacturer of motorcycles. Dr. Suzuki authored a few little songs featured in Book 1 of the original, 2nd, revised, re-revised, and re-re-revised over-priced materials (with many pieces out of sequence and most still badly edited).

In my opinion, anyone who still gets teary-eyed over Dr. Suzuki's insights into children's cognitive development needs to save the preaching and seriously brush up on their Piaget and Vygotsky (in general) and on Rolland in terms of skill acquisition and fine-tuning in string playing.

Also, in my experience, Suzuki Conferences are little more than monolithic idol-worshipping and self-congratulatory get-togethers. ASTA Conferences, at the opposite pole, are intense and chock-ful of great ideas to take home and experiment with, very energizing and motivational.

Take and use as you will - your mileage may vary...

February 10, 2011 at 11:57 AM ·


I admire your courage for saying all of this, and at the risk of getting a lot of criticism as well, I must say I agree with you.

Sazuki motorbikes may be OK, but the Sazuki violin method, to use an Americanism, sucks!

February 10, 2011 at 01:53 PM ·

Well I'm also with Andrei on this issue.I have never had any problem with e 3 yr old not recognising the diffrenece between a G and an E on paper and we move on from there. Using lots of games they soon recognise the sounds represented by the symbol. This is very important in building a sound foundation for intonation.If you have no idea what a printed note sounds like how are you going to play it in tune.

February 10, 2011 at 03:16 PM · To clarify: I am not intending to raise the Suzuki or non-Suzuki debate. I just would like to know how good Suzuki teachers accomplish what they do without notation as an aid!

February 10, 2011 at 05:03 PM ·

That is a rather broad brush you are using. I was unaware that "traditional teachers" were the only competent string teachers! Rather, I think you can find that BAD teaching is available through ALL methods of string instruction. While Suzuki de-emphasizes actual reading initially in order to focus on tone (just as children learn to speak before they actually learn how to read their own language), good Suzuki teachers don't put this off too long. Suzuki wanted his students reading by the time they were around Book 3 (which in Japan, starting violin at age 3, they would be about 5 when they started reading--both their own language AND music notation). Very few US students start Suzuki at age 3--it is probably closer to 4 or 5. That is where the confusion arises--especially with teachers who have no idea what the Suzuki method is all about, have taken no Suzuki training, but still call themselves a "Suzuki Teacher."

When our eldest daughter (a Suzuki kid) was in graduate school at Juilliard, she said just about every student she knew there was "a Suzuki kid."

As a disclaimer, my wife is a great string teacher, and she has instructed all of our children (all play professionally)--and she teaches using the Suzuki Method.

February 10, 2011 at 05:09 PM ·

Jim--was your comment directed to me or one of the other posters?  I personally agree with your assessment of Suzuki's intents in reading and his purpose and have a lot of respect for the method, though I am not myself a Suzuki teacher.  (I do have book 1 training, and have been able to apply a lot of the principles into my own teaching.) I am just trying to understand better how that rote step works.  Thanks for your comments! 

February 10, 2011 at 05:18 PM ·

To Jim again, if your wife is a Suzuki teacher I would love her thoughts--how does she teach all the details as the music gets more and more elaborate (say up through book 3), without the use of notation?  does it just come naturally when you start at it so young?  Is listening the key at that stage?  Or do you work on "puzzle pieces" for a while before putting it all together? 

February 10, 2011 at 05:32 PM ·

 kathryn, there is one thing that i have noticed, not sure if you would consider it relevant to your question.

pretend i am your student.  you put a piece of new music for me to play.  i stumble.  then you have  2 choices:

1. sit back and let me slowly work through it.

2. you jump in with your violin and demonstrate the parts that i cannot do well on the spot.

if you choose 1, after a while, i will anticipate that i just have to do it.  i may hate it and even hate you! :)  if i make a mistake, playing a quarter note as 1/8, you stop me and ask me to play that section again and pay attention to exact tempo.  you seem so lazy, not doing much.   this type of learning seems very slow.

if you choose 2, after a while, i will anticipate that you are there to help me. whenever i stumble, i turn around and look at you and give you that come on look:)  please show me.  knowing me, i know that i can sound the note much easier if you play for me.  so what happens with me is that i will pay more attention to how you sound it, and less attention to the score, let alone thinking it through.  in fact,  i won't have the time or chance  to think it through because ready or not, you have already sounded out for me.  this type of learning seems very efficient.

but the 2 alternatives eventually lead to different kinds of students.  in the long run, time saved may seem wasted, and vice versa.

February 10, 2011 at 08:02 PM ·

Al, that is a fascinating thought...interesting balance to work for...and yes, I can see how it would apply at least to an extent.


fun to learn from you all...

February 10, 2011 at 08:26 PM ·

 >  Is listening the key at that stage? 

Yes. That is the primary component.

When a child begins acquiring spoken language, we don't drop an IPA table in front of them and expect them to be able to figure out HOW to say letters, words, and sentences. At the beginning, it's done by rote, as they hear (and see and feel) how things are done by proficient speakers around them. Once they have reached the stage of cognitive development to be able to interpret symbols, then we can move on to reading. The approach to learning has to change, to adapt over time to the needs of the student.

To echo Jim's post, most of the issues we have with the Suzuki method, and those awful students we get in orchestras and chamber music as old as high school who can't read to save their lives, are the product of bad teachers who don't understand that what is appropriate for a child at age 3-4 is completely wrong for one at age 7-8. They fail to introduce supporting material as necessary to support the child's learning, and aren't cognizant of the importance of recognizing the change in interpretive attitudes of the core repertoire over time.

I'm perfectly happy to use the first few books for their repertoire for beginners, and I like the material offered by Shirley Givens, Mark O'Connor, and others as well...but regardless of what pieces they play I usually start with older kids at age 6-7 for whom scales, note reading and rhythmic training begin immediately!

February 10, 2011 at 09:17 PM ·

Suzuki kids, because of the way they begin learning music, develop superior memories along the way, too.  Time spent on a piece is an element as well.  A student rarely goes on to a new piece before having truly mastered the one before.  This includes memorization, even long past the point where a student reads music fluently.

February 10, 2011 at 09:31 PM ·

Last I checked, the Suziki *books* are written with *musical notation*. 


What is the issue here?

February 10, 2011 at 09:37 PM ·

Gene said, "echo Jim's post, most of the issues we have with the Suzuki method, and those awful students we get in orchestras and chamber music as old as high school who can't read to save their lives, are the product of bad teachers who don't understand that what is appropriate for a child at age 3-4 is completely wrong for one at age 7-8."

Is it the teacher's fault in all cases? I don't think so. Music is an *aural* art. If you are good at music, you might be bad at reading music--essentially by choice.  Learning to play violin well, and learning techniques, and musical interpretation, are totally different skills from reading music. 

Learning violin, with a teacher, is an optional activity for what--99% of people?  You get out what you put in. If you don't want to learn to read music, maybe you won't. And maybe that is fine. It all depends on what you are doing.

I would have to counter with the observation that an extraordinary percentage of otherwise proficient musicians (on many instruments) cannot improvise at all.  That, to me, seems like a tragic lost opportunity, but again, if you don't care much for that, then so what?

Gene, I used your quote a bit out of context (I like what you said in total) to bring focus to the idea that the student's motivation and goals have a lot to do with this, too. Kids don't know what expectations will be in the future, unless someone shows them.

Unrelated to Suzuki, traditional music has, since the beginning of time, been passed on from person to person without the aid of written cues. You learn riffs, phrases, turnarounds etc, and structure. You learn to listen, you learn to remember. Orchestral playing is only one small part of music making and it gets over-represented as the end-all be-all for violin. This is mostly (and I do not blame or fault here) because that is the experience of most teachers. So to that extent, it must seem as a frustration when a student doesn't have reading skills up to par.

February 10, 2011 at 09:58 PM ·

My first teacher supplemented Suzuki with I Can Read Music and other reading materials. Everyone has excellent points here--I would add that learning to play by ear at first reduces what a child is absorbing all at once. I started when I was four,  an age at which I was still easily distracted. Reading music is a necessary skill, but I agree with Suzuki that most of us learn to speak before we read. Remember how hard it was to say certain phonemes when you were young? Establishing technique is a similar process, I think. Personally, I think reading and playing by ear develop different skills, both necessary for playing. Playing by ear allowed me to imitate easily remembered parts of concertos at a young age and develop my intonation. Reading is necessary for ensemble work, naturally, but I find it more important now for developing my own ideas about a work. There is a reason my college has both theory and ear training classes!

February 11, 2011 at 12:09 AM ·

Starting out as a Suzuki student handicapped me for later on. Its a lot more helpful to know how to read music early on in my humble opinion. However, the whole learn by ear thing is quite fascinating .


Bill: If you want to get anywhere in the classical violin world, you must know how to read music. Unless you are a child virtuoso, chances are you will play some seating auditions.

February 11, 2011 at 12:52 AM ·

of course listening is important, but learning to read the score is also important.

here is a compromise.  learn to read the score from book 1 and listen to heifeitz play all you want.:)

better yet, have the mommy listen when she is pregnant :) 

February 11, 2011 at 02:23 AM ·

With reference to the final para of Bill's post  I think playing and learning music by ear, which I've learned to do over the past 10 years with Irish and English traditional music, is closely connected to improvisation –  for this reason: if you learn music by ear in a given genre you get immersed in that genre and think in it, and that must be an important first step to composing in that genre. And what is improvisation but composing and playing in real time on the fly?

February 11, 2011 at 04:31 AM ·

I think most would agree that a classical violinist needs to know how to read music.   Most of the suzuki teachers I know teach suzuki method and also what most would call the traditional method as well, and -- as they've graduated from the finest conservatories in the nation -- know full well the importance of learning to read music and teach all of their students accordingly.   I suspect the widespread belief that suzuki kids can't read is partially outdated and partially the result of some bad teachers (and, yes, there are bad teachers of traditional method as well) and some students who -- for whatever reason -- never became proficient readers. A large number of players in professional orchestras spent at least some time learning the suzuki method, after all, and they presumably learned to read at some point.  My own daughter never did study the suzuki method herself, but several of her peers --  several of whom are truly outstanding players -- began their studies in suzuki programs.   As an outsider looking at suzuki, it seems to me as good a place to start as any, particularly for the very young -- if the teacher is worth anything.  Serious violinists move through the material fairly quickly and then beyond it, where they then study the same scales, etudes, and repertoire as everyone else. Some -- like Sarah Chang and Hilary Hahn -- move through Suzuki at lightning speed, others take a bit longer, but they all hit their Wohlfart,  Kayser, Kreutzer, Rode, Fiorello and Flesch least in the programs I've seen, which is admittedly limited -- to five (i just counted) here in NYC.


February 11, 2011 at 05:16 AM ·

I would say *most* of the Suzuki students that I've met have strong skills and/or potential to develop ability, and were music literate.

It's the unfortunate few that arrive to audition for youth orchestra, or acceptance into an after-school program, or to take private lessons...only to discover that while they may be able to produce some semblance of the musical works in their books, they lack the foundational skills to learn, practice, and interpret music without learning it by rote. Some areas of the world just see more of them than others, to the point it becomes old hat.

Here's an interesting question: are we to judge the quality of any ideology by the best examples that it produces, or the worst ones?

February 11, 2011 at 07:54 AM ·


Andrei: I wonder who you might have been alluding to in a roundabout fashion. ;) Well, frankly I'm not a Suzuki teacher so it's not like my paycheck is on the line. I don't say it is appropriate for everyone across the board. I don't know where it seemed I was teary-eyed or preaching? And I certainly have done my time in educational psychology courses although it wasn't yesterday.


Janet: I can't argue with your experience, but I have heard from other sources that their kids could identify symbols, but to get them actually reading music in tempo was an utter failure and waiting a year or two made all the difference. Also, as an absolute pitcher, my perception of pitch when I'm away from the instrument can be an intense trinity of aural, visual, and tactile cues, but of the three, the visual seems to pack the least punch.  I have to disagree that the ears are that dependent on the eyes to tell them what's in tune; eyes don't hear.

Gene: Sounds like a trick question!


Peter: Poor sight-reading is everywhere, not just in kids of a certain background. It's a common lament in music schools but nobody seems to feel comfortable actually practicing sight-reading.

February 11, 2011 at 01:05 PM ·

I think it is for the individual teacher to give some sight-reading practice to the pupil during every lesson, and encourage the pupil to do some sight-reading at home (for the beginner/intermediate on the violin a book of Irish fiddle music would be ideal material). It's the only way. My cello teacher always did it, as did my piano teacher in the preceding years. My current violin teacher will often finish a lesson by putting up in front of me a previously unseen duo (East European fiddle music, Bartok and Pleyel are favorites) for sight-reading. As a result sight-reading has never been in the forefront of my playing problems.

February 11, 2011 at 01:32 PM ·

Nicole rhythm and pitch should first be taught seperately.The wonderful invention of the computer means that it is possible to print giant size notes.If solfege is used for the rhythm it doesn't take to long to understand the differnce between a ta, titi and ta-a.I usually have them bang on a drum first.Essential however to have some form of musical accompaniement to play along with.It all makes much more sense.Every new concept should be understood before moving onto the next.So I dont introduce a new note and a new rhythm at the same lesson.Having said all of that its handy to have a stack of little one string melodies to be learnt without notaion as it takes time to read more than the open strings and various rhythmic patterns

February 11, 2011 at 03:24 PM ·

If I remember the story I think she was having problems getting them to process rhythms written out on a chalkboard.  They memorized and regurgitated the information when prompted but couldn't actually do it themselves.  They also were totally boggled by the idea that notes' duration is relative to tempo.  This was at a first grade level.

In any case, you seem to be saying that two disparate skills, rhythm and pitch, should be learnt separately and mastered before putting them together, so my question then is why try to learn to play and read music simultaneously?  I'm not trying to be a p.i.t.a. but that isn't making sense to me.  If it works for you, it works but the way you put it doesn't seem consistent, that's all.

February 11, 2011 at 04:49 PM ·

I take violin lessons with my daughter.  Our teacher uses the Suzuki books, and many of the principles of the Suzuki method, but he is also quite flexible in how he works with each student, and treats them as individuals.

I started violin with my daughter, and had already learned to sight read playing piano, and with a very good chorus teacher in junior high school.  My ear has never been very good, but six years of violin lessons have made a difference there.

My daughter on the other hand, has a really good ear, and picks up music quite rapidly.  She has also been resistant to learning how to read (she's 10, and can read but will only do so when pressed).  Our teacher is making a point to press her to read the music.  It's hard for her to see why she needs to read since she picks up the tune so easily.  I think she is finally getting the point that the bowings, phrasing and dynamics are not something she is picking up by ear, and needs to do right. 

Each kid is different.  I think it takes a good teacher to dig in and find out why a child is not picking up on a skill at a reasonable point in their musical studies.


February 11, 2011 at 08:34 PM ·

Nicole, sorry but I can't see where the inconsistancy is.Maybe I'm not being very clear in presenting my view. Thye rhythm and melody are not left as seprate entities but join together as soon as possible.The first melodies I use are on the open strings and only use quarter notes.(Stepping Stones K & H Colledge) I reprint out the tunes in large notes.The accompaniement does not follow the tune which is rhythmiclly varied so they have to feel the pulse as they play.These early tunes move on to incorparate fist varied rehms on open strings and then first fingers.Once a child has understood the concepts the musical world is their oyster.Some children have no problem sight reading the Kuchler op11 concertino when they are 5 or 6.All children are different however and some may take much longer.

February 12, 2011 at 02:04 AM ·

 "To clarify: I am not intending to raise the Suzuki or non-Suzuki debate. I just would like to know how good Suzuki teachers accomplish what they do without notation as an aid!"

In an attempt to get conversation back on track here...

I am a Suzuki teacher (this sounds like an AA meeting lol) and I firmly believe in the importance of sight reading.  As soon as my students are comfortable tapping rhythms, I begin work with them on reading rhythm cards.

As others have already mentioned, the Suzuki method does not neglect sight reading.  It just treats it as a separate skill, which it is.  Sight reading is something that is covered at great length in Suzuki teacher training. 

To answer Katheryn's question: you sing the songs and bow on your shoulder.  The really simple example is Twinkle.  Most kids already know the song.  So you replace the words with singing "A A E E 1 1 E 3 3 2 2 1 1 A."  Something like that.  This varies from teacher to teacher.  Some of them use note names instead... but you get the picture.

The idea is that they learn the "violin words" and then can sing them while bowing the correct bowings on the shoulder.  They learn relative pitch.  They are associating what they hear with a finger/pitch on the violin.  

As the songs become more complex, they are broken down into "preview sections."  In other words, the the hard parts are dissected and addressed long before the student is actually on that piece.

By book 2 (or book 3 at the latest), the music is put in front of the student to discuss certain parts.  There's no reason to hide it from them =) But discussion is different from learning.  Book 2 students are still establishing their technique, so there is still a strong emphasis on learning by ear.  Book 3 is usually when the two skill sets are combined.  By that point their set up should be solid and their sight reading skills (completed separately) should be on par with their ability level.

February 12, 2011 at 04:52 AM ·


Thank goodness you wrote in!  

This is precisely the way our Suzuki teacher worked early on.  The more difficult the piece, the more our teacher used "pre-exercises", little sections which are to be practiced until the skill involved is mastered.  Sometimes they isolate just one or two notes, like a tricky shift or placing the low 2nd finger.  Sometimes these are more like passage work.  Our teacher insisted that the entire piece not be played at all until she passed my sons on the pre-exercises.  Sometimes it would take a week, sometimes more.  She used a practice book in which she made it clear exactly what was to be done.  Only I, the practice parent, used the music.

Just an observation:  Most Suzuki kids are listening to an entire year's worth of repertoire (or more) at least once a day.  By the time they arrive at a new piece, they have it firmly in their ear.  If left unsupervised they are able to "noodle" their way through much more advanced pieces than they are currently studying.  This was, however, definitely discouraged by our teacher.  It all starts with 20 minutes of listening a day, religiously.

I also have noticed how confidently many Suzuki kids join in at jam sessions.  They generally have something to play when asked and are happy to show what they know.  You never hear a Suzuki kid say "I would play for you, but I left the music at home!"  There is something joyful about this natural, uninhibited, enthusiastic sharing of  music.  It really is the point of the whole adventure of learning to play.



February 12, 2011 at 02:58 PM ·

 i think at the end of the day, or periodically, when we look back, what often impresses me the most on learning is whether we have put in enough interest, time and effort to train and be trained.  the approach or a specific method is not of paramount importance.  

for dog lovers or lovers on learning here is one:

what is different between training a dog and teaching a kid music in a class setting, among many other things, is that the music teacher is often constrained by how much time she or he has to deliver some information.  the prof with the dog has all the time in the world;  a music teacher has 1/2 hr to an hour.  the prof works with the dog daily; the music teacher has one shot per week.  

so, i think it really calls upon the music teacher to be highly resourceful and creative.  i think if the teacher is to be successful in teaching something, sightreading or others, the teacher MUST be successful in leading a team of helpers to help the kid.  i am a strong believer in having parents getting involved.  i don't think a teacher, under the usual arrangement of once per week encounter, can do much alone.    it is like asking the best chefs in the world to whip out dishes with the proper ingredients but without a proper setup to prepare. 

every teacher starts out as a method teacher--one has to start somewhere, with some ideas to share.  with experience dealing with individual students with different potentials and needs,  the method teacher changes and adapts and learns to improvise.  it is when the method teacher becomes a person teacher--to really can tell different methods apart in the application of a particular student, from a mile way:), then we are talking.  what look like magic touches are not magic at all--just a good model of meeting demand with supply.

February 12, 2011 at 06:32 PM ·

Well if the child is learnig AAEE11E-332211A- (the last notes of the phrases are longer aren't they?) it is rote learning , not playing by ear.This is also a well tried method and many roads lead to Rome but it rather puts the learning mode into a different perspective.The number of a finger hardly gives the idea of the note sound it is merely training a mecanical action.

February 12, 2011 at 09:36 PM ·

 To Janet:

It is not the same thing as rote learning.  It's not like we're telling them to remember the following sequence of number and letters.

Most of the students already know the words to Twinkle.  So we'll do lots of activities where we bow while singing twin-kle, twin-kle lit-tle staaaar.  The student learns where the "fast" bows are and the "slow" bows are.  One bow stroke for each syllable.  Then you replace the actual words with violin words.  So they are actually singing A A E E to the tune of twinkle.

The first few songs always take the longest.  But by the middle of book 1, most students can listen to a piece and tell you what notes are being played on the violin without the teachers assistance.  Their sense of relative pitch is already established.

February 13, 2011 at 02:54 AM ·

Danielle, thanks much for your responses-that's very helpful. Actually, it's in many ways parallel to what I do, only I usally marry the two skills in early suzuki 1-type rep, within the first 6-9 months depending on readiness. But I also rarely start with kids younger than 6 or so. The thing I run into that drives me nuts though is that, though I think the timing of reading usually is pretty good for my kids, I feel like the "balance of power" almost automatically shifts and if I don't watch out, the ear training just doesn't happen. What I want is kids that can whip out a tune from the sheet music or from their head with equal ease...haven't attained that yet but getting closer. A couple things that have helped: teaching the notes as patterns, "pictures of the sound" rather than just dot-to-dot; trying to continue incorporation of teaching by ear occasionally; and systematically building an aural/tactile musical vocabulary using echo patterns(one of these times I'll do a post on that-haven't fine-tuned my sequence yet but I am getting better results! Gordon music learning theory for anybody who cares)

Also really enjoyed the other responses. Al, yes. Absolutely. That is what I strive for and hope to reach! Everybody else, great thoughts and I wish I could comment on them all because there is so much good stuff on all sides. Keep it coming!

February 13, 2011 at 03:11 AM ·


It really is learning by ear since the student who listens repeatedly to the pieces, can almost always figure out a way to play them on their own, although with inventive fingerings etc...  The teacher's job is to standardize their fingerings and bowings before they establish the inventive, but impractical ones.  The major process is listening to playing.  By the time the student is singing the finger numbers or the note names, they already know the tune by memory.  

Also, this finger number singing is only used in the very, very early stages of book 1.  It doesn't take long for them to learn that book 1 songs are to be played in first position, so not all possible fingerings are allowed and the finger number step quickly becomes unnecessary. 

The note name singing is not for learning where fingers go, but is a pre-reading/ early ear training and theory exercise.  I know that non-Suzuki teachers use this approach sometimes well before the student even holds the violin.  It is early Solfege, I guess.

February 13, 2011 at 09:17 AM ·

 To Kathryn:

I've had a lot of success using these rhythm cards as a way to introduce sight reading:

Once they can chant the various "word" rhythms with a metronome, it's pretty easy to go straight into a beginner sight reading book like I Can Read Music.

If you're already interested in this style of teaching, I would recommend that you take a few Suzuki teacher training courses.  They're quite fantastic.  You can take or leave the methodology, but the whole point is to teach how to teach.  I've retaken a few of the classes because you just get so much out of it every time.  

This discussion has been archived and is no longer accepting responses.

Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram Email is made possible by...

Shar Music
Shar Music

Yamaha Silent Violin
Yamaha Silent Violin

Pirastro Strings
Pirastro Strings

Find a Summer Music Program
Find a Summer Music Program

Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases
Dimitri Musafia, Master Maker of Violin and Viola Cases Business Directory Business Directory Guide to Online Learning Guide to Online Learning

Dominant Pro Strings

Antonio Strad Violin

Bay Fine Strings Violin Shop

Bobelock Cases


Los Angeles Violin Shop

Nazareth Gevorkian Violins

Metzler Violin Shop

Leatherwood Bespoke Rosin



Johnson String Instrument and Carriage House Violins

Potter Violins

String Masters

Bein & Company

Annapolis Bows & Violins

Laurie's Books

Discover the best of in these collections of editor Laurie Niles' exclusive interviews. Interviews Volume 1 Interviews Volume 1, with introduction by Hilary Hahn Interviews Volume 2 Interviews Volume 2, with introduction by Rachel Barton Pine