This is why I hate Suzuki

August 2, 2016 at 03:13 AM · While I do use Suzuki materials and can't argue with the basic philosophies of parental involvement and young starting ages, I really can't understand the editing decisions made by the powers that be. So maybe someone can give me some logical explanation for why some of the editing decisions have been allowed to stand against all modern playing philosophy and musical practice.

I'll be very specific and point out two absurdities in the first movement of Vivaldi's A-minor concerto. I have a fairly recent edition, 2008, edited by Natchez:

1. What possible rationalization can there be for bowing the 16-note passages staring at bar 24 with the two middle notes in each grouping slurred? This make no sense, either pedagogically or musically. The musical emphasis, instead of being on the first 16th, is now on the 2nd, resulting in a syncopation that Vivaldi did not intend.

2. in bar 30, the downbeat B is fingered with a first finger, in spite of the 1st finger F natural just before it. In what universe is this a good fingering suggestion? It's acceptable for book I, but for an advancing student who is learning common fingering patterns, this is a very poor example. I highly doubt there's a teacher that would allow this fingering, but then why does it persist? And who is this person Natchez? Can he or she be extradited?

If these examples have been corrected in more recent editions, than I'll eat my words. But I would really like to know how this kind of 19th century editing has been allowed to stand. Is Suzuki Inc. so abhorrent of change? Is the institutional inertia ("well, I learned it that way, and I don't want to change...") too great to expect the materials which can reflect modern sensibilities?

Replies

August 2, 2016 at 03:21 AM · Aww now them's strong words!

I love Suzuki in many ways but I understand your feelings about the Vivaldi -- and about that Nachez version. If you really want to make your students run screaming or perhaps punch a hole in your wall, after they've learned the Nachez, show them this nice kind of urtext-y version by Kurt Sassmannshaus. One discovers that those passages that give students such troubles were actually written by the composer in a way that is WAY easier! That said, I do think the challenge is good for students.

August 2, 2016 at 03:28 AM · Regarding bar 30, my version has both 1-1 and (below) 1-2.

As for bar 24, perhaps it is intended pedagogically to create asymmetry a la Kreutzer 3.

But there are many weird fingerings (and bowings) in Suzuki that I assume are there to teach some (albeit frequently outdated) technique, and I tend to ignore many of them.

August 2, 2016 at 03:51 AM · I think the thread is an exaggeration to make a point. But the Nachez edition is not "Suzuki" per se-I imagine it was left more or less "as-is" in the modern reprint for a reason, for better or worse (ironically I am used to that "bad" version as my first Vivaldi "Op. 3 No. 6", OUTSIDE Suzuki, many years ago. When taught this concerto in a teacher-training program, we used an alternate version-in short, the teacher is free to edit the given piece to a more "modern" performance standard (the reason I surmise the concerto wasn't changed too much, leaving it up to each teacher's prerogative.)

In any case, the Nachez version, whether used or not, will not cripple any student's progress by being different than the original. Doubgt the G minor is just as Vivaldi wrote it either. I don't really think it's an issue to lose much sleep over for.

On a side note, I believe having "bad editions" of good music is better than to not have any at all. Urtext is good, but sometimes it can be like an immutable dogma for many. I prefer a more balanced approach, but to each their own.

August 2, 2016 at 05:59 AM · I think I will go along with Scott on this one. The reason being that i really do not see the point of having Suzuki at all. I know lots of people will argue the merits, but many good teachers use better systems and teach good basic technique and good use. And anyone can cut and paste these days and make good exercises and excerpts.

Suzuki seems so out of date these days.

August 2, 2016 at 06:39 AM · One of the wonderful things about violin instruction is that we are not rigidly bound by some sort of international gang to only teach a specific set of repertoire.

It seems to me that just because one person personally can't figure out how a particular method achieves its goals, doesn't mean that they can dismiss the entire rest of the population of folks who have and continue to use it effectively. While I'm not a fan of a lot of the editing still present in the later books, I can at least see how the earlier technical elements taught in the earlier books come together in a cohesive way, and it's very effective for the youngest ones since they don't have the same physical and cognitive abilities as older kids.

So, how many 3-4 year old children have you started and/or taught on the violin?

August 2, 2016 at 07:04 AM · The Suzuki method's repertoire was compiled in, what, the 1950s - taking into account over a century of editorial accretions on the Baroque repertoire - and well before anyone started doing anything boring like "looking at the original score to see what Vivaldi might have meant" .... ;)

August 2, 2016 at 07:35 AM · Isn't anything that gets kids playing the violin a good thing? Considering all the other constraints on their attention.

And as far as I know, Suzuki at least (theoretically) needs official accreditation and training which can be verified by a prospective pupil's parent, whereas any shmo can call himself a violin teacher.

The method has its limitations but it is successful for many people. So what's your problem exactly. A non-musical slur? An incorrect fingering here or there. Big deal. (Besides, a teacher has the freedom to rectify these and other shortcomings)

August 2, 2016 at 07:57 AM · Tividar Nachez (1859 - 1930) was known for his musicianship but certainly not his technique. Some recordings of him exist.

His editions date from a time when violinists considered Vivaldi's manuscripts a tad primitive, ripe for "improvement"! These are the editions that Suzuki learned from. They are musically coherent, and may even represent the kind of elaboration that violinists might add spontaneously. The orchestrations are fairly tasteless to my ears, although I find that the G minor benefits from a re-harmonisation which suits my rather nineteenth-century ears!

August 2, 2016 at 09:33 AM · The way I see it as a "Suzuki dad" is that the Suzuki method attracts those negative emotions only because some treat it as if it were a religion. Suzuki himself was apparently an inspirational teacher and his approach to introducing very young children to music was innovative and has proved effective for many thousands of young learners (and their parents), but the Suzuki books are in essence just one person's suggestion for sequential learning repertoire. There are lots of other good repertoire books on the market!

Following Suzuki's own books is important though, at least in the early stages, because it gives learners a common repertoire they can play together in group lessons – something that is a tremendous learning incentive to children struggling with the basics. But by the time they get into Book 4 and meet the Vivaldi A minor they should be doing other group music making, junior orchestra or sight reading easy chamber music, and slavish following of Suzuki's repertoire becomes less important. According to our teacher Suzuki himself said there isn't a definitive Suzuki method, the approach has to be adjusted to suit both student and teacher. By the time a student reaches the Vivaldi the Suzuki books are likely only to be a small part of the total repertoire they come in contact with, and their individual technical needs may benefit from exposure to other "methods".

As Chris says above, Suzuki actually put together the repertoire at a point when Vivaldi's music was pretty obscure. Even The Four Seasons was hardly known until the sixties. The first modern editions were only just beginning to emerge, and Suzuki will have been choosing repertoire from the editions available to him which reflected performance practice a world away from what you find nowadays.

The question of course is why the modern revised editions of the Suzuki books haven't updated the concerto to a version which is more "authentic". I understand that in the case of the Vivaldi A minor there was actually quite a controversy about that – previously the Suzuki teachers' association in Europe had advocated using a modern version instead – but for some reason the Nachez version has been retained. I suspect the religious fervour of the "true Suzuki followers" won the day, but it is possible there was a sounder reason. The fact that the Suzuki movement places great store on the possibility of international conventions based on the common repertoire means teachers have tended to accept the decision of the revising committee.

August 2, 2016 at 10:19 AM · Whichever way you look at this it is really a "can of worms."

Religion has ben mentioned and I think that is apt.

There are two groups, believers and agnostics, and nothing will change the way people are.

August 2, 2016 at 12:52 PM · In my opinion, one unfortunate - and probably unintended - consequence of the regimented Suzuki approach is the tendency of kids to measure progress by what book they're playing.

An recent experience somewhat comically illustrates this: I got into the elevator of my apartment building with my cello, along with a father and his two daughters, one carrying a violin, the other a cello. Upon seeing my cello, the cello-playing daughter asked me "What book are you in?" I must have looked as confused as I felt (I didn't immediately catch onto what she meant), because the father stepped in with, "Honey, not everyone knows the Suzuki books."

In my music lessons growing up, I obviously had a sense of progressing to more and more sophisticated repertoire. I didn't use Suzuki books. I never had a sense of achieving some sort of milestone because I was "in" some book or other. Sure, I felt some sense of achievement when I was first assigned a Popper High School etude, but I didn't feel that that defined me as a player, the way some kids say "I'm in Suzuki Book __," as if that tells you what you need to know about their playing. Not sure whether the milestones provided by the Suzuki system are entirely a good thing; when a teacher uses a more individualized repertoire progression, perhaps there isn't so much comparing one student's progress to others.'

August 2, 2016 at 01:11 PM · I am not sure Suzuki can be blamed for his books being used as an indicator of playing level, I think they just happen to satisfy a human characteristic of comparing ourselves with others. Or comparing our offspring.

Here in Britain pretty much everyone does graded music exams (and only a minority of teachers are Suzuki trained) so those are used instead. That was an issue for my daughter until she finally took a violin exam, needing that to audition for the local youth orchestra.

However whether using Suzuki repertoire or preparing for exams, a student is not going to be a good musician if they are simply trying to tick the box (how soon can I learn the piece which gets me into the next book) rather than learning to play properly, and exploring the repertoire quite a lot more widely.

August 2, 2016 at 01:19 PM · As an ex-Suzuki dad, I don't find it unfortunate that students gauge their progress by the book number, as long as they are acquiring necessary skills.

Perhaps Suzuki's greatest contribution to music education is the standardization, which is at the core of the Industrial Revolution.

August 2, 2016 at 01:43 PM · Let me be clear: I'm not blaming Suzuki for this; I'm blaming the rigid adherence to a repertoire progression for all students learning an instrument. Why should piece X in book Y always be the best next step for all students? Why can't a student be given some choice (within certain parameters) for their next piece - i.e., sometimes a student might want to explore something Romantic, or something Baroque, or even - gasp - something non-Classical. This allows them to develop a musical voice, rather than marching through a prescribed sequence along with everyone else.

Obviously, not all teachers do this, but many do - as evidenced by the fact that the girls I met had no concept that someone might not immediately know the Suzuki books, or that there was any other way to talk about learning a string instrument.

August 2, 2016 at 01:52 PM · Meg,

Following the "common core" of Suzuki books that you call the rigid adherence is exactly the secret of the success of their method, the standardization.

Also, resourceful Suzuki teachers are very flexible, contrary to what you assume. As an example, my daughter's Suzuki teacher assigned sections in Bach Chaconne and Mendelssohn Concerto as etudes while she was still on Suzuki book 5.

Although anecdotal, my experience with the method and teachers has been very positive.

August 2, 2016 at 01:54 PM · As far as I know, Suzuki always intended his books to be supplemented. In the large Suzuki programs in which I grew up, other pieces as well as etudes and exercises were routinely taught. On occasion the Suzuki pieces themselves would be taught out of sequence, as well, and some, especially in the later books, might even be skipped.

August 2, 2016 at 01:59 PM · People always want a bit of paper to frame and put on their wall. It's human nature I suppose, but it is meaningless.

You are only as good as your last concert ... Master degree in 2016 - rotten player by 2017.

August 2, 2016 at 02:01 PM · Sung, I think I already acknowledged that not all Suzuki teachers rigidly follow the sequence. But I do believe that music teaching misses the point when kids regard learning an instrument as a series of books to be gotten through.

The Suzuki method has worked well in your experience, and that's great. I guess the standardized approach is just not something that I feel is best for me, or for the teaching I've done (which was not on a string instrument).

August 2, 2016 at 02:11 PM · I fully understand that it is not your cup of tea. In my opinion, however, a repeated practice of well-chosen sequence constitutes the core of a standard education, be it music or math. Suzuki made it much more palatable by using familiar tunes instead of rigid etudes or studies that even grownups are often loath to practice.

August 2, 2016 at 02:30 PM · Also, for goal-directed kids, a clear sequence, repeatedly reinforced by seeing older kids play the same repertoire, can be a major motivator. For my personality type, the sequential advancement was highly gratifying, as was the ability to compare how I was playing something to how others were playing something. And the common repertoire allows for the "play-ins", the mass performance of pieces, which I also found really satisfying as a kid. It might seem hokey to an adult, I suppose, but for the right kind of kid, it's fantastic

August 2, 2016 at 07:13 PM · I like Vivaldi a lot, and I like nachos, so the Vivaldi-Nachos is definitely for me. It ranks up there with the Taco Bell Cannonball.

I think Lydia's rationale rings the truest to me. The Suzuki books are a solid repertoire for the studio that does a lot together as a group, especially the play-ins. I accompany my teacher's Suzuki group and the littler kids look up to the more advanced ones, and they imagine that they, too, will one day be able to butcher Seitz concertos. (sorry! I couldn't help myself there)

And another thing about the Suzuki books is that honestly you get quite a few pieces for a reasonable price. Compare that to O'Connor books, for example, which are okay too, but much more expensive (I have all of them except the new Book 4 which is $35 at Shar. Suzuki books are half that).

August 2, 2016 at 07:22 PM · "I fully understand that it is not your cup of tea. In my opinion, however, a repeated practice of well-chosen sequence constitutes the core of a standard education, be it music or math. Suzuki made it much more palatable by using familiar tunes instead of rigid etudes or studies that even grownups are often loath to practice. "

Let me clarify: I'm not totally against Suzuki himself, or the idea of standardized repertoire. As I've said, I do use the books often to a certain point.

I suppose my criticism about the wonky editing, especially in book 4, which is no longer beginner material, is really directed at the Suzuki Association, including the big names, such as Bill Preucil, that advocate for it. One can say it's ok for beginners, but I don't find the Mozart A major, which is professional repertoire, to be acceptable either.

So here's a question for you Suzuki teachers (because I don't know): as far as the bowing of Vivaldi is concerned, can you get a Suzuki qualification if you edit the piece, or are you expected to adhere to what is there?

August 2, 2016 at 07:28 PM · You get even more pieces for the buck with RCM books. And you get a CD with piano accompaniment tracks!

August 2, 2016 at 07:29 PM · Bowing is usually not changed -- I can't remember ever seeing it changed in my childhood study. But fingerings sometimes are, unless they are odd for pedagogical reasons. The consistency of bowings is more of a nod to things like play-ins where you want everyone to be doing the same thing, I imagine, much like orchestral bowings.

As far as I know, there is no One True Suzuki Way. Suzuki himself said that every teacher would be different.

August 2, 2016 at 07:33 PM · Yes, you can do whatever as long as it's in the spirit of the approach. We studied the "Op.3 No. 6" with an alternate edition, and that in a well known NYC teacher-training school.

Obviously if you change everything for every piece it would be questionable (as often there is a method to the apparent "madness") but there's no "Suzuki police" out to get you.

(Of course, if teaching Suzuki traditionally with frequent group classes the editions used should be more or less uniform, but in the case stated above, I believe the edition was agreed upon-even then the more "non-group" pieces will be nuanced by each teacher's and student individuality. As long as the changes make sense pedagogically, that's all that matters.)

August 4, 2016 at 11:21 AM · Scott,

What you quoted is my response to Meg, not you. Just wanted to clarify.

August 4, 2016 at 12:06 PM · Yes, the "books = progress" school of thought that many Suzuki parents and children fall into is unhelpful. It's particularly unhelpful as there is no assessment at the end of a book.... in contrast to say the ABRSM exams where assessment is standardised within an inch of its life.

So you have children being pushed onto the next piece because they, their teachers and parents are keen for them to be "doing well" even if they are hacking through every piece with serious technical flaws.

This is exactly what happened to me up to the age of about 11 - I had managed to somehow "play" through to the end of Book 8 and my parents thought that I was at the equivalent of ABRSM Grade 8 standard - no, no no - more or less half of that. Fortunately I had a very good non-Suzuki teacher from 13 onwards who was able to pick up the pieces. :)

August 4, 2016 at 12:40 PM · When I taught I started using the Suzuki books in the 1980s when I first learned about them. I too noticed the anachronisms in his bowings in the Vivaldi A minor as well as other places. While I could appreciate the pedagogical ideas in his approach, I always used more conventional editions for my students when they differed.

I feel these are small issues compared to the graded and gradual approach that Suzuki provided. The successes of his approach and the resulting elevated level of violin playing in the world today speak for themselves.

August 4, 2016 at 12:41 PM · Sorry! duplicate post.

August 4, 2016 at 01:38 PM · A few years ago I noticed those strange bowings in the Suzuki version of the Vivaldi Amin, mentioned it to my teacher and we agreed to work from an urtext edition. The same thing happened the following year when I came to the Vivaldi Gmin in Suzuki 5. It's probably not entirely irrelevant that my teacher is an active performer, so considers the music from a performance point of view (which is how it should be, imo).

August 4, 2016 at 08:04 PM · I think the balance of "advancement" (playing harder stuff) versus "accomplishment" (actually getting better) varies per-teacher; it's not just a Suzuki versus non-Suzuki thing, although I imagine there's more of a temptation with Suzuki due to the clearly laid-out sequential progression.

I've heard plenty of non-Suzuki students hack out repertoire that's considerably too difficult for them. Some of those teachers actually get great local reputations because their students appear to "progress" very fast, and if the local competition jurors tend to favor "more difficult piece" over "less difficult place played better", that will tend to favor the advancement-over-accomplishment teachers, whose kids win all the prizes.

August 4, 2016 at 09:57 PM · I have never participated in Suzuki myself, but I imagine it wouldn't be the right fit for a strong-willed, especially articulate, independent child, who may not want their parents supervising everything. A former teacher of mine's daughter gave up Suzuki violin after two years because the uniformity and constant supervision didn't sit well with her. She started again within a couple of years on "traditional" instruction and is enjoying it much more. I also imagine that Suzuki wouldn't work for a busy family where the parents work non-stop and do not have the time to sit in on lessons, take notes, and supervise practice. I think Suzuki has its place, but it may not work for everyone.

August 5, 2016 at 07:11 PM · That's why you see so many exceptional Asian kids in a competitive orchestra at various levels. Tiger parents? Maybe. Dedicated parents? Definitely.

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