Suzuki vs. other methods of training

November 11, 2014 at 01:57 AM · A thread was begun here on Suzuki violin, and over time has morphed into a discussion of the pros and cons thereof:

That thread is now at its maximum responses, so I'm starting a follow-up thread.

I'll start with a response to Linda Goulder (whose post I've replicated below so that this thread has context).

I don't have overwhelming feelings about Suzuki vs. non-Suzuki methods. I do think that the teacher, and potentially the overall music program, matters far more than whatever particular methodology that they use.

Linda, you seem to be vastly confused about the difference between undergraduate programs in music, where violinists are already expected to be years and years beyond what any method out there covers, and the methods used to teach brand-spanking-new beginners.

I would also draw a major distinction between, say, the Russian and Chinese music academies that put young children in full-time music-immersion environments, and the kind of approach that you find in the United States (or most of the rest of the world, I believe), where with the exception of prodigies who are concertizing as pre-teens, even very serious study of music is still considered to be one activity in an otherwise well-balanced well-rounded life.

I cannot think of a pre-college program in the United States that teaches a comprehensive understanding of theory and analysis. Basic theory, maybe even basic part-writing, yes. But in-depth formal analysis is normally part of the undergraduate music curriculum, at least in the US. It may be different outside the US.

(FYI, a significant percentage of this board's readers are well aware of what is involved in a music major, since a goodly chunk of us are formally educated in music at the post-secondary level.)


Linda Goulder wrote (copied verbatim from the other thread):

Lydia in response to your November 10,2014 post:

I can understand your overwhelming feelings, given your background including method of study in reference to how you see the entry level requirement of formal violin studies for both beginning level adults as well as children as being unbelievable. I will provide an example of a child prodigy which will provide a better understanding of why the entry level requirements for formal music studies for both child and adult beginners are so intensive, complexed and advanced both for primary education levels and formal post-secondary education levels.

This example involves a Russian born child prodigy who from a very early age, prior to the four year age range was immersed in music skill building sets. This young prodigy's father-a musician performing with a local Russian Philharmonic Orchestra as well as mother- a chorale director who conducted a five hundred voice children's choir, helped this three to four year old prodigy develop an in depth, comprehensive understanding of skill sets such as theory, ear training, site reading, site singing and composition.

At four years of age, this child prodigy began formal studies with a Russian violinist who taught the Russian Method of violin. By Age five this prodigy made their first public debut. At age seven this prodigy, performed Mendelsohn's Concerto.

Upon their tenth year this prodigy won the junior division of the prestigious International Karol Lipinski and Henryk Wieniaswki Competition in Poland. After winning this competition, this prodigy continued to perform regularly in public.

At age 15, this prodigy won the International Carl Flesch Violin Competition. By age 16, this prodigy was teaching a master class at the University of California.

This same prodigy went on to become a world wide sensation and virtuoso who was born to play the violin, renound Russian Violinist/Conductor and Mundelein Professor Maxim Vengerov.

Most two year colleges require freshman level theory courses, aural training and site reading course as well as practical music applications courses such as piano, orchestra performance, and vocal performance.

Most of the Two year colleges, I've attended all possess very competitive music programs which offer extensive studies in order to produce the best musicians possible.Even a two year college often sets the bar quite high and can refuse entrance to any prospective music major into their program of study if there isn't a comprehensive understanding of theory, ear training, site reading and composition .

Music Majors like myself, aren't normally required to take a suggested fluff courses known as music appreciation which is mainly only taken by non music majors. Because the majority of these Music Majors matriculating into these music programs already have a very comprehensive, in depth, understanding of theory, site reading, ear training, analysis and performance skill sets.

This transfers over to the four year institutions whose music programs have even higher expectations for Music Majors applying to these programs. The requirements for audition and entrance into these programs requires a very complexed and comprehensive knowledge of both technical and musical aptitude. The competition is fierce for entrance into these programs and applicants can be denied if the technical as well as musical aptitude isn't there.

Many of these four year music programs are designed to teach their prospective Music Majors, many whom not only pursue Bachelor's degrees but also Masters, Doctoral as well as PH D's too not only learn performance but chorale conducting, Orchestra Conducting and composing, which is why the bar is set even higher at a four year university.

As a music major who has matriculated both into two year as well as four year institutions offering extremely competitive music programs, I can honestly say I've never had a problem being accepting into any of these programs that I applied too.

It is true that transposing by ear and practical application needs to be practiced. Transposing by ear by itself does have it's drawbacks, it is both practical application of applied theory practices as well as transposition by ear which allows for better accuracy and consistency.

For example:

The conductor wishes to transpose down two octaves, and make the necessary adjustments to the key signatures, time signatures as well as adjusting the intervals by applying the proper diminishments, augmentations and naturals where needed, in order to create a richer more consistent flow throughout the composition.

The problem with learning to transpose by ear alone is it can create a chaotic, fractured, division which is often unnoticeable to the musician, but very noticeable to other musicians within the orchestra as well as the Conductor including audience members.

By applying both transposition by ear as well as transposition theory analysis the result is much better and more consistent.

While reading clefs are part of the transposition process, dynamics, key signatures, time signatures, accidentals, placement, tempo, divici's, voice, cords, hybrid cords, poly cords, articulation and ornamentation are all crucial in the transposition process.

As I have stated before in previous posts; I have always been supportive of the benefits of learning Suzuki for students who just want to experience learning an instrument in a fun environment, where stress isn't a factor, while learning some basic notation, learning where rote is emphasized and just having fun doing so.

It boils down to this, learning a style of violin which you are most comfortable with and happiest pursuing is always the best avenue to pursue.

Replies (29)

November 11, 2014 at 09:01 AM · Fun!

I had a hesitant prospective parent ask me if violin would be "fun" for his lively little boy.

I answered that many find my lessons fun, but that music is first and foremost beautiful.

If I enjoy a H*g*n D**s ice cream, it's not "fun", it's delicious!

Watch Perlman: his playing is beautiful, and he's having great fun doing it!!

My point?

Well-taught Suzuki students enjoy (a)music, (b)playing it, and (c)playing it well. Hard work is "fun"...

A good basis for both future amateurs and future professionals!

November 11, 2014 at 03:44 PM · Syllabus?

The first few years of this programme introduce the musical and technical elements in a sequence radically different from usual methods, producing hostility from those who have succeeded through those methods. All, but all, the virulent criticism I see comes from obstinate ignorance.

November 11, 2014 at 03:45 PM ·

Boy, you really want to keep beating this dead horse.

November 11, 2014 at 04:35 PM · "Boy, you really want to keep beating this dead horse."

To Suzuki and Yamaha add Honda.

November 11, 2014 at 07:56 PM · "Boy, you really want to keep beating this dead horse."

Couldn't resist a peek, though?

November 12, 2014 at 01:31 AM · There's probably an interesting debate to be had on what makes the biggest differences in the rate and effectiveness with which students learn. Is it the teacher? The practice techniques? The discipline with which a child practices? Parental involvement? Listening? Going to concerts?

November 12, 2014 at 09:43 AM · I think the most important thing is the alchemy between a motivated student who is actively interested in learning, coupled with an excellent teacher, and that the two are a good "match".

After that, the method used may be of secondary importance.

November 12, 2014 at 08:39 PM · I fully agree with all this (except perhaps the "dead horse" bit!).

But finding the most suitable method, (or maybe methodology?) helps to give a satisfying lesson even when either teacher or student are less on form (or less inspired) than usual.

November 12, 2014 at 11:09 PM · Perhaps of we refered to it as "the Japanese School", ala the Russian School et would lend an air of self importance and snob appeal that is otherwise lacking in the open and welcoming method.

November 12, 2014 at 11:43 PM · Hah! Good one, Seraphim! ;)

November 14, 2014 at 06:30 AM · "...Most of the Two year colleges, I've attended all possess very competitive music programs which offer extensive studies in order to produce the best musicians possible..."

Very interesting. So exactly how many two-year colleges HAVE you attended? And in what educational universe did they have "very competitive music programs"? There's no way you're talking about the US.

November 14, 2014 at 07:25 AM · Just followed back Linda Goulder's links and realized she apparently is trained as a singer, attended a local community college in Michigan, and began playing the violin a little over two weeks ago. That explains a lot. :-)

(As always, I commend anyone who bravely begins playing the violin as an adult.)

November 14, 2014 at 12:21 PM · Interesting question, Lydia! As a teacher, I naturally want to find the "golden ticket" that will make every student learn quickly, play beautifully and love doing so. I don't think it really exists, but I'm still looking!

I find that there are outliers in either direction: some students will learn despite all odds and others seem to struggle no matter what anyone does. But for most people, I think it's a combination of nature and nurture. Even the internationally-touring soloists of the world didn't get there on talent alone. They were also born into the right families who knew where to take them and could afford to do so. Certainly for the average, or even above average, student, I can see a significant difference between those whose for whom music is a family way of life and those whose parents take a hands-off approach. But every once in awhile you get a student with real talent and a completely clueless or uninvolved family. I have a special affinity for those!

November 14, 2014 at 04:19 PM · Is there a scientific comparative study regarding different teaching methods?

Unless there is an established criteria of what constitutes a success in violin teaching, all of this is in the realm of speculation and prone to subjective / biased comments.

We need to see some numbers.

November 14, 2014 at 06:47 PM · Growing up in a large Suzuki program, I remember that it was obvious to everyone that there were vast deltas in teaching skill between the many teachers. One method, one set of shared group classes, common recitals, and new students randomly assigned to teachers -- about of as much of a controlled experiment as you can get in the music world.

There were distinct patterns that made it pretty clear, in most cases, who a student's teacher was. There were teachers who tended to move kids through repertoire quickly, but without mastering the fundamental skills. There were teachers whose students ostensibly moved more slowly through the method but they had clearly mastered the skills that they were intended to learn at each stage. There were teachers somewhere in-between. There were teachers who clearly taught something especially well -- right-arm fluidity, left-hand facility, vibrato, etc. And so on.

November 14, 2014 at 06:51 PM · Statistics? Criteria,?

A fairly small proprtion of Suzuki students "make it" to the profession for two reasons:

- we don't eliminate anyone;

- there is a very low dropout rate, so the world is full of happy, capable amateurs, who will come to concerts and will provide good lessons for their children..

November 14, 2014 at 07:14 PM · A fairly small proportion of students from any method make it to be professionals. I don't see that used as an excuse to get rid of school sports programs or demonize the peewee soccer league!

November 14, 2014 at 07:16 PM · I think that's a great analogy!

November 14, 2014 at 07:31 PM · To my mind "vs." implies an unhelpful divide between teaching methods when there isn't, or shouldn't be one, so perhaps it should be "Suzuki and other methods of training".

It's just that a particular teaching method may be more appropriate to an individual and their circumstances than others.

November 14, 2014 at 07:41 PM · I agree, Trevor. It seems that it's usually those outside the Suzuki tradition that feel the need to make that distinction. I don't understand why as I have found the Suzuki community to be very open-minded about sharing ideas with other teachers. In turn, I've learned a lot from them.

Lydia, it's interesting to hear your memories from Suzuki. I wasn't involved with that kind of community of teachers as a child, so my own teacher's teaching was all I really knew. Did the students express preference for one teacher over another? If so, how did assigning them work?

November 14, 2014 at 08:37 PM · In the first Suzuki program I was with, incoming students were assigned randomly, other than siblings of existing students, who were assigned to the same teacher unless a preference was expressed otherwise (in which case they'd go into the random pool). Requests could be made to change teachers later, and this was done with reasonable frequency, especially as some teachers generally were less comfortable teaching intermediate-level students and some teachers were less keen to teach beginners. Very few students stayed within the program past the intermediate level (very rare to see book 8-and-beyond students), or beyond middle school.

In the second Suzuki program I was with, there was one teacher who would take students beyond the intermediate level, through the beginning of advanced repertoire -- Mendelssohn concerto level or so, but again you generally didn't get kids beyond middle school age. So if you had someone else you would switch, or you could come in at the later stage; it was much like any other private teacher switch where you'd essentially competitively try to get a place in her studio. If you were beyond book 6 or so, you could stay within the music program and take its group classes and orchestra and whatnot, but not do the Suzuki piece, so it was really more a community music school whose early levels were Suzuki-based but advanced level was not. (The upper-level string orchestras in the program were actually conducted by the Chicago Symphony's assistant conductor -- I can't tell you how much I learned that way as a nine-year-old kid!)

November 15, 2014 at 04:35 AM · Lydia wrote, "Very few students stayed within the program past the intermediate level (very rare to see book 8-and-beyond students), or beyond middle school."

Yes, that's what we Suzuki parents fear -- we're spending maybe $4000 a year when you consider all the various costs, and we don't want our child to suddenly say, "I'm done." There is an aspect of protecting one's investment for many parents, unless one is in the super-rich category.

I read somewhere that one of the goals of the Suzuki method was to get kids to be sufficiently skilled at the violin *by age 13* that they won't quit. And I read somewhere that the original idea was that if you start a child at age 3 and they complete one book per year, then by age 13 they'll have played Mozart 4 and 5, which definitely require skill.

Call me a snob, but I had a hard time getting past "renound" violinist and "site reading." That just really doesn't inspire confidence.

November 15, 2014 at 05:45 AM · (Linda Goulder seems to have deleted her account and all of her posts on this site, interestingly. I suppose being caught out as a two-week beginner didn't sit well with her.)

It's not that students were quitting the violin -- they were simply going on to new teachers at a more advanced level. Locally (Chicago area in the 1980s) the sequence of teachers tended to be very specific for the serious students -- start with Suzuki, go to Betty Haag, then go to Almita Vamos or Roland Vamos or Cyrus Forough, back before the latter three became well-known pedagogues. Plenty of other local teachers for less-serious but advanced students, too.

November 15, 2014 at 02:24 PM · The Vamos studio... that's real pedigree. People moved *UP* from there?

November 15, 2014 at 09:49 PM · "That left the apathetic ones who somehow hadn't quit yet."

I have had many who totally lack "ambition", but are anything but "apathetic"....

But yes, the most motivated move on (before they overtake me!) in order to join the "system", and are well received!

November 16, 2014 at 12:18 AM · Any kid who wants to something significant other than music (such as an athletic sport) will have a tough time getting good on the violin. Very often around the age of 11 is also where the parents stop coaching the practicing and it's asking a lot at that age for many kids to have the discipline to make practice effective. Around that age, too, one often starts getting assigned pieces that are longer and children do not like working on the same thing for months. The lack of progress and the general boredom and loneliness of daily practice, coupled with the peer pressure to be involved in other things, does them in. They're not apathetic. They're normal.

November 16, 2014 at 01:43 AM · Paul Deck -- I mean the Vamoses or Forough were the last stop along the system, so to speak. (Since this was before they got famous, this was still very much local-teacher stuff. For instance, when Almita Vamos agreed to take me as a student, I was around the late-intermediate level -- Haydn/Viotti/de Beriot sort of level, at about age 10. Then my parents ended up in a messy divorce, and they decided to switch me to a teacher near our home -- a newly-arrived prof at Wheaton College's conservatory -- rather than having to drive more than an hour each way.) Of course this would all be kids -- so when the Vamoses moved on to Oberlin, some students followed them there for their college years, and others went on to other conservatories.

I studied with the usual feeder teacher, Betty Haag, who was the subject of a Strad article about a decade ago that you might find interesting --

The article is called "Iron Hand, Velvet Glove". I only remember the iron hand. ;-)

Frieda Francis, in most cases parents would have to figure out the move up themselves, with the exception of teachers who were very specific about not teaching beyond a certain level. The less skilled teachers were often not very competent violinists themselves, but some of them were very good at teaching beginners nevertheless. Hard feelings were certainly sometimes involved, and the program was not without its internal politics as a result.

November 16, 2014 at 08:10 AM · In view of these very varied experiences, I should say that quitting in in adolescence is common to all methods, and comes from hormones, peer-group pressures, and parental incomprehension.....

November 16, 2014 at 10:51 PM · My parenting approach is very simple: Classical music is part of each of my children's education. If I could find low-cost private foreign language instruction I would do that too. However, physical activity is not unimportant. Kids need that.

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