Is there a new direction re String Teaching?

August 31, 2014 at 03:40 PM · I believe that in the Twentieth Century our focus began to shift towards understanding how children learn rather than seeking the secrets of renowned educators. Does this apply to string teaching?

Educators will talk about Piaget and Vygotsky,-

Do we apply these theories when we teach strings?

Replies (31)

August 31, 2014 at 07:23 PM · >>I believe that in the Twentieth Century our focus began to shift towards understanding how children learn rather than seeking the secrets of renowned educators.

How about we look at it differently and say renowned educators have a deep understanding of how children learn. Shiinchi Suzuki is the first to jump to my mind.

August 31, 2014 at 10:36 PM · Suzuki was what I was going to say as well, but didn't want to stir up any contentiousness....

September 1, 2014 at 06:06 AM · Suzuki has had a profound influence on, for example, Paul Roland, for string teaching, and Glen Doman, for reading at an early age. Another visionary pedagogue for children who gave a central part to music was Rudolf Steiner.

It is interesting to find that the initiators of "child-centered" teaching will not always agree, since the strategies they adopt will still depend on their own individual insights.

Suzuki wrote somewhere that if a child can speak correct Japanese, he can play the violin - it's easier!

Paul Roland makes intelligent comparisons of various strategies for the violin.


I checked the links.

We are brought back to the old "nature vs nurture" debate.

- Steiner refused to teach children to read until they stated to lose their milk-teeth: nature before nurture.

- For Suzuki, nurture (family, rituals,

listening, repetition...) is a path to the child's nature.

More edit:

During a conference given by a psychomotricity therapist, I was struck by the similarity between her sessions and my violin lessons...

September 1, 2014 at 02:19 PM · @Adrian

What? You mean there is an actual difference?

September 1, 2014 at 03:52 PM · My thanks to those who have responded!

Please take a few minutes to visit this link:

Love to know what you think-

September 1, 2014 at 07:32 PM · I checked the link, which set my mind a-buzzing!

I live in France, where music education is designed to weed out the weak hearted. However there are three "enlightened" pedagogies: Martenot, Willems, and Dalcroze. Dalcroze "eurythmics" is the only one to be directly transferable to the English-speaking world, but the other two have insights and techniques similar to Chicken & Froggie and to the Suzuki Mother Tongue approach: use of easily repeatable "chunks" of sound, theory learned from the "real thing", and game-like challenges.

In a conference on the Willems method, the videos showed, at various levels, a rather colourless but committed teacher, using no stories, coloured illustrations or other tricks, with a musical content so real that the children were enthralled. The films were made in Switzerland, with, I imagine, fairly middle-class children. Rythms were tapped, tones were sung.

I realise how incredibly lucky I was with my musical childhood:

- Tonic Sol-Fa on my mother's knee: listening to others to find one's note;

- the Baptist Hymn Book at Church: a sense of well written harmonic progression, and part-singing;

- daily singing at school;

- piano lessons: harmony again, and left-hand motricity;

- a choral scholarship: the sheer quality of the Anglican tradition has made me something of a snob;

- at last, viola lessons when my voice broke, adding the violin ten years later.

As a teacher,

- Doflein Method;

- Suzuki Method: training in Lyon, France;

- a personal mix lasting into semi-retirement.

It would be a mistake to try to emulate this "path" to music with students of very varied backgrounds, but by extracting what is universally valid, and being flexible in the order and presentation of the elements, I may, one day, be a better teacher!

A provisional shortlist:

Listening (background and intense), singing, tapping, chunking, linking...

September 2, 2014 at 03:24 PM · Adrian,Look a little further into the Gordon Music Learning Theory, the basis of that link, and you will find your own history echoed, especially Dalcroze. I, too, am not happy to see extrinsic motivation slink into any approach. I imagine that the producers think that America demands gimmicks.

This new link will work today. It will probably fail tomorrow but I shall be posting an update - especially, upon request.

Helen Martin, Easton, PA

September 4, 2014 at 04:23 PM ·

Good Helen, now you can have a chocolate(extrinsic motivation slam).

I believe the 20th century was a real let down when it comes to teaching techniques and progress, and I am really hoping the 21st century remembers what 'not' to do or forgets it. I am sure there are some pockets of great teaching concepts, but I find the easier less productive techniques are in the forefront of everyday teaching.

What's important to me is everyday new research is coming out on how the mind works, and mankind has learned more about the mind and body in 15 years than in the last 5000 years. But, for whatever reason, teachers are hanging on to what someone said as a guess 50 or 60 years ago, and regard this as the gospel truth.

I have found that one of the true secrets behind teaching is to understand the concepts behind muscle motion and mental actions. I look at concepts as a 'theme' and muscle motions and mental actions as the 'plot'. Most teachers teacher can teach the plots, but don't understand, know or have reversed the themes. The concepts are the path or priority of movements and thought and they must be followed.

September 4, 2014 at 05:23 PM ·

September 4, 2014 at 09:45 PM · To form a story we need the elements: theme, plot and setting. To learn something new we need a concept, motions or actions, and practice.

For example: Shifting forwards

Motion and action: moving the finger up or down the neck with little or no finger joint movement, release finger pressure and bring the elbow forward.

The concept or prioritization of thought and movement is:

1st think of the note to be played

2nd swing elbow forward

3rd release finger pressure

4th now guide the finger up the neck with the shoulder muscles

5th restore pressure

6th bow note

If the concept is practice slowly, over time, shifting will be natural and consistent. But, if the concept isn't practiced and the violinist isn't following a plan, than the chance of good shifting is unlikely.

Practically everything we do on the violin has a concept to it that needs to be followed.

September 4, 2014 at 09:51 PM · Charles, I am puzzled by some of your remarks in your first post:

My general impression is that more recent observations of mind & matter confirm rather than invalidate the practical intuitions of the first half of the 20th century, (e.g. Montessori's "thinking hand", Suzuki's "mother tongue" approach, Steiner's anthroposophy.....)

But might we be in agreement that mind is nothing without matter, that the inner ear is nothing without superb coordination of nerve and muscle, and we "artists" should not necessarily be ashamed of wearing our hearts on our sleeves?

Your second post describes exactly how I teach shifting (maybe not in those terms)

I am re-assured!

September 5, 2014 at 12:46 AM ·

September 5, 2014 at 06:58 PM · A few messages back I promised to update a link. Here it is!

But time and effort will pay off by viewing the Gordon Lectures

Re Paul Rolland, The Teaching of Action in String Playing highlights how much of what we call technique is beyond conscious control. I think Edwin Gordon would agree that when we perform, we focus on the music that we are going to produce -or reproduce- as opposed to verbally articulated, physical instructions.

Helen Martin, Easton, PA

September 5, 2014 at 07:26 PM · Charles says:

"I believe the 20th century was a real let down when it comes to teaching techniques and progress, "

Well, I have always believed that the twentieth century represented an immense leap forward for music pedagogy. I'm willing to be enlightened if you would like to give me concrete examples, demonstrations, references, etc.

September 5, 2014 at 09:02 PM · "we focus on the music that we are going to produce -or reproduce- as opposed to verbally articulated, physical instructions."

Absolutely. But when all is up and running, we remain blissfully aware of the physical processes (as opposed to instructions).

September 6, 2014 at 12:42 PM · Music with a plot?.

It was not only the Baptist Hymn Book or Tudor anthems which "nourished" my inner ear, but also BBC Third Programme, and my parents' LP collection. I could make my mother scream by turning off the radio in the middle of a cadence. And vice versa.

At that time, even pop music was not yet cramped by the few chord buttons on cheap reed organs (nor the infernal rythm box).

So we are getting near Suzuki's Mother Tongue approach. He described how tiny Japanese would learn (by rote) maybe 200 haïkus, before spontaneously inventing their own, with the accumulated vocabulary, mental imagery, and regular form. A bit like Mozart's early minuets?

Audiation? (What an ugly word!)

I judge a piece of music, after the first theme, by trying to imagine what I would put next: if the next part is more inspired than what I would have put, it's a good piece! There are many good pieces. And a lot of rubbish.


I have only ever had one pupil who could imitate my playing right from the start just by watching, with me sitting opposite her. I usually have to sit to one side or the other, and tell them what to look at.

Montessori helping young children recognise letters by tracing large letters (in relief) with their fingers - and forearms.

I think the 20th century got a lot right!

September 7, 2014 at 01:43 AM · I think the number one reason why there are so many highly skilled string players today is Suzuki. Even if his method is not your cup of tea (or kool-aid), there really isnt any question that he raised the bar on violin pedagogy. Yes there were good teachers before Suzuki, but not nearly as many good *studios*.

September 7, 2014 at 06:34 AM · For me Suzuki,is an introducing method for beginners,like a start up,just an observation,now I have some Suzuki students,who was playing the violin about 3-5 years using Suzuki method and I see many posture and tune (intonation) problems,and as a teacher you need to do a double work to improve it.The important thing is,to start playing the violin a student have to build a strong bases(posture,right tune,hearing,sound)in first years of studying the violin.Anyway Suzuki method may helps for students who takes violin lessons for fun,hobby.This view is only my personal opinion.

September 7, 2014 at 07:00 AM · Dmitry, the issues you raise just shouldn't happen. My Suzuki teacher training insisted on great precision in all aspects of playing.

The books are misleading. If I were to write down the multidude of made-to-measure excercises (now often called "games"!) both gestual and aural, which I learned to use with my pupils, I should end up with a mighty tome of several hundred pages!

True, we will find a proportion of less able players, simply because we never exclude anyone...

September 7, 2014 at 11:07 AM ·

September 7, 2014 at 11:12 AM · Has anyone used Colorstrings?

It seems to be very enlightened; but I am colour-blind; so that's that!

Anyway the limited range of colours I do see have connotations that I don't want others to interfere with..

September 7, 2014 at 01:41 PM · Hi, Liz!

Let's remember that the core of Suzuki teaching is in the private lessons, even if other children are present.

If I have 5 children learning the same piece, I shall be giving 5 quite different lessons. One size certainly doesn't fit all, even if we wear apprently identical garments!

After all, children don't get to "choose" their mother tongue, but they will pick it up differently.

Adults can follow the method if they can recover a child-like (not childish!) pleasure in discovery, but they need to understand the reasons for our choices.

September 7, 2014 at 02:43 PM ·

September 7, 2014 at 05:31 PM · Is there a new direction re String Teaching?

Yes, it's downward. Depressing is it not?

September 7, 2014 at 06:56 PM · Silly! There are far more really competent fiddlers around. And viola standards have risen such that I often have to play violin...

September 8, 2014 at 05:25 PM · Start with this link:

(very interesting at 1:10)

I subscribe to "lilipaganinni" on Youtube

Is Violinissimo a new direction?

Here is a sample:

and another

and for the skeptics -

I want to know more-


Helen Martin and

Have fun!

Helen Martin Easton PA

Peter- Love to know more but not on this page. There does not seem to be a contact at your profile site.


Helen Martin

September 14, 2014 at 02:16 PM · Thanks again to those who responded.

Perhaps we do need to consider the recent research into how children learn. Violinissimo does offer a new direction (Youtube: lilipagannin)

Helen Martin - Easton, PA and Bridgewater, NJ

September 14, 2014 at 09:01 PM · Helen

My profile seems to be showing a contact now, but I've also added my email address.

September 15, 2014 at 03:25 PM · After dipping into the videos, I don't know if this is new pedagogy or just good teaching!

Impressive musicianship, but shaky intonation. Maybe the price to pay for lightness and flexibility in such young hands?

I remember a thread on finger patterns.

On their own, they are useless, but unless the musical intervals are felt muscularly in the hands and limbs, our "audiation" will not have a reliable outlet, and the listener will have a deformed impression of those beautiful things in our heads!

September 20, 2014 at 11:54 PM · Readers might enjoy this link re Audiation:


On Lilipaganini I saw

-early use of the octave, mid-string harmonic

-early use of vibrato

-students using ensemble repertoire as well as unison

-early repertoire from multiple sources including Fletcher/Roland

I hope to discover the curriculum for the weekly foundation classes

Helen Martin, Easton, PA, Bridgewater, NJ

September 21, 2014 at 06:06 PM · I have listened to a lot more of the videos: beautiful, masterly playing.

I didn't find further instances of the slightly squishy left hands that I had found surprising in advanced repertoire. But then I have observed rather few very young virtuosos with whom to compare them...

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