Cultural issues in music teaching

August 13, 2006 at 05:40 PM · Hello, this is my first posting to this site. My daughter, almost 7, is studying violin, and she's been struggling. I want to help her and our family have a good experience with music and with the instrument.

She was studying with a Suzuki-trained teacher last year, using the Suzuki book 1. She started out very enthusiastic but lost motivation as the year went on. She and her teacher weren't a good personality fit, and she didn't seem to like the "learn by ear" method. She also got bored with the seemingly endless variations on Twinkle Twinkle. And, she hates performing with a group. It makes her really nervous, although she enjoys playing duets with me and performing for one or two close friends and family members.

She seems to be motivated much more by the music itself than by technique or by an abstract concept of "learning new things." She likes singing and likes to tie the music to something in her own life. My husband is German, and we have a tape of German folk songs that we also listen to and sing. We were surprised and delighted to find out that several of the songs in the Suzuki book are German folk songs with different names. That discovery, which my daughter made on her own, gave the music a context, lyrics, and a personal tie to her own life, which she had been finding sorely lacking.

So I've been musing on the way these songs, and "the repertoire" in general, are presented to young children and students. For example, where did the Suzuki names come from? Why were the songs given new names in the first place? When and how would more cultural context be helpful in motivating children to learn the songs?


Karen Allendoerfer

Replies (70)

August 13, 2006 at 08:15 PM · It sounds like your daughter would be interested in the answers to all of those questions as well. It's good that you discovered her interest in those matters. The student who needs to know the "why" has to be taught differently than one who doesn't (like me when I was young). Now I need to know, but back then? I was happy with Aunt Rhody, the Grenadiers, and the Gavottes, who I must have thought were all real people!

Maybe her teacher (or a different one) can help her see the path from where she is to the infinitely more interesting and wonderful repertoire that's out there. And from my experience in Suzuki, it's possible the method is not for her. She'll have to learn the technique somehow, but it's not vital that she learns it playing Twinkle.

It sounds like you value the fact that she enjoys playing and singing, so as long as that remains important to both of you I think you'll find a good path.

August 13, 2006 at 10:18 PM · Good advice. I have a couple of similar reactions to reading this.

Lord knows, I love the violin, and think that if more kids were taught the violin at an early age, it would be a better world. However, indeed, maybe it's not the right instrument. Also, indeed, maybe it's not the right teacher. And, indeed, maybe it's not the right teaching method.

It sounds like your daughter has an ear for music, so it's undoubtedly worth pursuing. Keep an open mind, and try different things. It's interesting that if you read the biographies of many, many musicians, they started on one instrument, but gradually gravitated to another that was a better match.

Cordially, Sandy

August 13, 2006 at 11:29 PM · Suzuki can be a little dogmatic, and it seems that your girl might benefit from a different approach that doesn't rely on such a stringent formula.

August 15, 2006 at 11:21 AM · Thanks! I was looking around for another teacher/plan, and we met one my daughter really liked, but that teacher rejected her because she was honest and admitted she didn't practice every day. She also had played a rather uninspired and out-of-tune version of Twinkle for that teacher, so the lack of practicing really showed.

She had started out practicing every day, but, as I said, she lost motivation mid-year and it got to be a real struggle. Sometimes she'd cry and whine, not only with practicing but in her lessons. I would ask if she wanted to quit, and then she'd say "no! no!"

At the end of the year, after her last Suzuki lesson, she admitted that she'd been afraid of her teacher, and that it had always sounded like the teacher was yelling at her (even when I don't think she was). The teacher was a good musician, and I thought she was a nice person, but her English skills weren't the best and some of her advice was pretty vague.

The teacher that rejected us used "Adventures in Violinland," instead of Suzuki, which my daughter seemed to respond well to. So it was doubly disappointing to be rejected like that. I mean, she's only 7.

Anyway, at this point I'm considering a pretty radical step, which is to try to teach her violin myself for a year or two, while she takes professional piano lessons to increase her overall musician skills (and because she likes piano, likes to bang on it, and has been asking for that). We've had about a week of violin "lessons" at the mommy school (the "teacher" is a stuffed kitty) and they're going much better than the ones I paid for--at least in terms of her being willing to practice and both of us enjoying ourselves.

But it's been more than 7 years since I took violin lessons myself (I actually stopped playing, practicing, and taking lessons when I was very pregnant with my daughter because I was so tired and fat and working full time and exhausted), and I'm a little worried about what I'm getting into!


August 15, 2006 at 11:39 AM · Some people seem to have written lyrics to the Suzuki songs on their own and posted them on the internet, for example:

A lot of these lyrics are quite nice, but I still wonder why Suzuki, who studied in Germany and married a German, used these particular titles, which seem to divorce them completely from their origins. I mean, "Lightly Row" is really "Haenschen Klein" in German, but they even have a German literal "translation" in the Suzuki book, "Rudere Sanft." "Song of the Wind" is "Fuchs du hast die Gans gestohlen" (not "Windgesang"), and "May Song" is "Alle Vogel sind schon da."

And this one, from

is really horrible:

Perpetual Motion

Practice, practice, practice, practice,

Every day we get to practice.

Practice, practice, practice, practice,

Every day we get to do it.

If it's sunny, if it's rainy

we don't every get complainy;

Even when the sun is shining,

you will never hear us whining.

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,

Thursday, Friday, Saturday and

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,

Thursday, Friday, Saturday and

Practice, practice, practice, practice,

Every day we get to practice.

Practice, practice, practice, practice,

Every day we get to do it!

Yeccch!! Pedantic, condescending, and boring. Maybe it's actually I who's mixed up and has inaccurate information, not the Suzuki book, but I'd just like to know--where does this stuff actually come from?


August 15, 2006 at 01:53 PM · Hi Karen,

Are there no other teachers in your area? Perhaps you could ring around a few and explain your and your daughters experience with music and the violin so far. I am sure that some of them would be interested in meeting you and your daughter for a trial lesson. Also, for your daughter, it sounds as if it is important that she is "trialling" the teacher as well, so it's not just her waiting to see if the teacher accepts her as a pupil.

There are many "methods" of teaching young students, and not all are strictly formulaic. Personally, I think the best teachers of beginners adapt to each pupil but also give the pupil a wide variety of repertoire to challenge them in different ways and to expand their horizons and curiosty of different styles. When I am teaching beginners, I have a guideline plan for what needs to be technically mastered in what order. But I give the students loads of material, several short new pieces nearly every week, as well as more "long-term" projects. Your daughter does sound interested in music, and it would be a shame for her to discontinue.

PS - those practise lyrics sound awful! Maybe you and your daughter would enjoy making up some of your own.

August 15, 2006 at 02:34 PM · There are lots of violin teachers and, especially, several music schools. The music schools seem to be pushing Suzuki pretty hard for this age. They assume, when I say I'm calling about an almost 7-yo, that's what I want. Admittedly I'm kind of a shy person and dislike talking on the phone, but between talking to people, setting up trial lessons, scheduling blah blah blah, and my daughter's pickiness (she declared last week, after I was trying to set up a trial lesson with a man someone recommended and who sounded nice to me, that she only wants a "girl" teacher), I'm feeling worn out with that process.

Going back to the "folk song" and "relevance to daily life" approach, another sort of cultural idea that I had was Pa's fiddle from the "Little House" books. I loved those books as a child (and so, now, does my daughter). I bought the "Laura Ingalls Wilder Songbook", and I still really like the idea of integrating some of those songs into my repertoire and lesson plan.

And the Australian children's singing group, "The Wiggles" has a gorgeous violin lullaby("Star Lullaby") on their CD, "Go to Sleep Jeff," which showcases lullabys from around the world. The Wiggles have a multicultural schtick that actually is pretty effective, and my kids love them.

I'm just finding trying to integrate these disparate musical threads very challenging. I think that, for example, my daughter would love to learn how to play Star Lullaby for her dolls to put them to bed, and that would motivate her to practice. Or she'd like to pretend she's "Pa" (or "Ma") from Little House on the Prarie, and fiddle. But as played on the CD, Star Lullaby is in a funky key with a lot of flats and goes up to third position. So now we're getting into me transposing it down for her. Am I going to be able to find a teacher that does this kind of thing, or am I just setting myself up for frustration?


August 15, 2006 at 03:33 PM · Oh well here goes. Karen, it sounds a to me like your kid has you totally wrapped around her little finger. I wonder if the moment any teacher tries to impose the discipline necessary to learning an instrument (i.e. insists on her practicing or following instructions) then your little darling will immediately want another change of teacher.

I am always a little bemused when parents imbue their kids with these wonderful powers of genius and intelligence way beyound their years, but fail to consider that maybe with that intelligence comes the possibility that the kid is manipulating the heck out of them.

Just an outside view and obviously just my opinion and speculation.


August 15, 2006 at 04:35 PM · That's going too far, Neil Cameron.

Anyway Karen, remember that the art of violin does not need to be learned in a rigid sequential fashion.

The violin is learned in spurts. You put aside a teacher of method, mess around, quit temporarily, mess around, revisit that old teacher, find a new one, and just keep banging away at it. With young kids, perseverance is the key. It almost is more important that they persevere rather than gain great heights. But don't be afraid to change teachers if you feel that's necessary.

My only real advice is this: maintain some sort of training but encourage your daughter's creativity.

August 15, 2006 at 04:43 PM · That's going too far, Neil Cameron.

Is it? How so?

Certainly reads like the kid is possibly a tad spoiled to me. Although as I noted in my earlier post, that's my opinion and is purely speculative, but I think you chose to ignore that part.


August 15, 2006 at 05:27 PM · Neil, how so? I'm curious where your speculation comes from and would be happy if you could elaborate. Especially the part about imbuing a child with genius--where did that come from, since it clearly didn't come from anything that I wrote. Perhaps you could explain more about how your ideas and speculations might help me with my problem. What solutions do they point to? What do they have to do with music? Do you have any experiences with "spoiled" children that you've been able to help that you'd like to share?



August 15, 2006 at 06:05 PM · Geez Neil, the kid's unhappy with the Suzuki method and doesn't get along with her teacher. What would you suggest, force her to stay with the same teacher and method she hates to build character?

August 15, 2006 at 06:28 PM · Thanks, Kevin. I looked at your profile and I thought it was awesome the way you are a classically trained violinist who has branched out to all kinds of different styles and cultures and instruments as an adult, and has fun doing them all!

That's the kind of approach I'm trying to get at in this thread--although perhaps not very eloquently. What I want is to find a way to have violin playing and music enrich day-to-day life, and to be able to share music as a family. I'm fascinated by the way folk songs and fiddling used to bring people and families together before the days of TV, gameboys, and overscheduled busy lives. Why not now?


August 15, 2006 at 07:53 PM · Yes, why not now?

Music is an inclusive art, not an exclusive one. I STILL play those folk songs today on a daily basis because it's fun, and I'm actually on the verge of going to some folk festivals around town to jam a bit.

That's another thing. Expose your child to all sorts of different styles of music. When I was growing up, I was only exposed to classical music. That was cool, but I'd really have enjoyed other styles of music too. As it stands, I ended up getting involved with them over the years. Now I can have more fun playing with others than I ever have before.

Don't worry about the "genius" thing. Let's acknowledge Neil Cameron's insistence that his opinion is "purely speculative" and that your child "possibly" spoiled. If that's the case, then it's "possible" that your child might NOT be spoiled! That's why I'm going to let the issue drop, because I'm agreeing with him in a way.

There's also a beneficial element of "crosstraining" when you go between styles. In the end, violin playing is violin playing despite the different ways to categorize it.

August 15, 2006 at 08:24 PM · LOL, love the over-reaction of some on here to simply posting a contrary opinion or view. Too funny really.

I'll bow out of the discussion, although I basically stand by my view that there's a possibility the little darling is merely acting their age and not wanting to do some things when they're told and that too much is being read into it all.

I must admit that I'm always intrigued by the way in which someone posts here and so often (not always, but usually) that original post taken as the infallible truth. For example, "The teacher is bad..." there's no questioning at all that maybe the student is bad or the perceptions are wrong, just a somewhat automatic acceptance that "the teacher is bad". Hence, it may be a somewhat quixotic approach, but every now and then I'll continue to post a possible contrary explanation.

Then again, I've always enjoyed being a sh!tstirrer. :)


August 15, 2006 at 09:07 PM · I'm intrigued too at who that "someone" is.

August 15, 2006 at 09:25 PM · I'm sure you are Kevin, I'm sure you are...


August 15, 2006 at 09:42 PM · I won't deal with your baseness any longer.

August 15, 2006 at 09:45 PM · So Karen, you originally wrote that your daughter is inspired by the music she plays rather than by the desire to learn in the abstract. Does she have a goal that she's expressed? I ask because if so, there are many of us who could point you in directions that we feel would be helpful. Or if she's like many kids that age, there's no over-arching goal that can be pinned down! In that case, do you have a desire for one year or 5 years from now? Maybe just that she's still playing and enjoying it?

As it's been said here, it's nothing new for a student of any age to be unhappy with teacher, repertoire, progress, etc. Could you be more specific with what you feel may happen if the situation is left unchanged, and how you would like it to go?

August 16, 2006 at 02:01 AM · Nathan,

You asked a couple of good questions that are food for thought:

>Does she have a goal that she's expressed?

She says she likes the way the violin sounds. She wants to play with other kids and perform for a few people she knows. She also hasn't said this explicitly, but I think she wants to have a relationship with an adult that involves making music. That adult could be me, or it could be a teacher. She also sees the older kids at school with their instruments and wants to be like them.

>In that case, do you have a desire for one year or 5 years from now? Maybe just that she's still playing and enjoying it?

I want her to find something that she enjoys doing enough that I don't have to nag her to do it. I want her to find a passion that isn't watching TV or playing video games. It doesn't have to be violin, or even music, but that seemed like a good place to start last year when she was asking me could she please please play the violin.

>Could you be more specific with what you feel may happen if the situation is left unchanged, and how you would like it to go?

If the situation is left unchanged, meaning that she keeps following the same curriculum with the same teacher, then I will feel like we're wasting money and time. I also think that her feelings about music could be harmed. For whatever reason, I've met quite a few people over my life who, because of the music education (or lack thereof) they received, are kind of bitter and/or self-conscious about music. They won't sing for anyone, if they play the electric piano they will only do it wearing headphones, they run themselves and their own abilities down, get caught in excessive perfectionism, that kind of thing. I think this is sad. Especially when contrasted with her enthusiasm when she started.

In any case, our homeschooled "lesson" went really well again tonight; to be honest, spending a fun half hour with one's child most days, talking about and playing the violin together, seems like a good enough goal to me.


August 16, 2006 at 03:11 AM · Neil always comes to my defense, so I have to say I don't think he'd have said what he said if it hadn't been revealed she didn't play "every day." The teacher who turned you down was just expressing the necessity of that. Even if it's just Sander's 5 minutes approach (does it work on kids?). I've never done any parenting, but I think optimizing it requires finding a fine balance between the kid's personality, and imposing what she doesn't know she needs to know. So it could easily turn into an inner journey, I guess. I don't see anything wrong with the lyrics you quoted, meaning I don't see anything wrong with the message. I do know in Japanese business at the time there was a huge emphasis on teamwork and everyone being of like mind. It's a bit more like an American free-for-all now I think. One interesting thing to me is that the German folk songs were used. I assume one overriding design goal was to have wide appeal and good efficacy in the West. Familiarity assists in learning by ear (obviously). Maybe a Suzuki history expert will find this and tell us all about it.

August 16, 2006 at 11:12 AM · Oh, the whole issue of "practicing every day" or not. I'm sure there are many different opinions and I don't see why there can't be room for all of them. I didn't (practice every day), as a child. I didn't have lofty ambitions, either. I am happy to concede that most if not all of the people who practiced every day were more skilled than I was. But I guess I'd still like to say, "so what?" It depends, to me, on what you want to get out of it.

When I got older, as a teenager, and then as an adult, I did go through a period of several years where I practiced every day, and sure, I really improved much more and much faster when I did. I took another break from practicing and lessons to get a PhD and then started practicing again after that, pretty much every day, and it was amazing how quickly I got back to my former level of skill and surpassed it. At age 29, I had the experience of being concertmaster of an orchestra (the orchestra at the university where I was a postdoc), for the first time in my life. So I think I understand the benefits now; but I certainly didn't at 7.

I grew up in a family of non-musicians, and there wasn't any question at all of parental pressure to practice or parental monitoring of practice or anything like that. Their opinion was, pretty much, take it or leave it, it's up to you. So it was a real internal choice and motivation to "take it." My stand partner in high school had quite a different experience, lots of Suzuki-style parental monitoring and pressure to practice every day, which had led, by the time I knew her as a teen, to rebellion and disilluionment. And now, as adults, I still play and she's given it up entirely. I'm not familiar with scientific long-term studies, but I do wonder what types of experiences and temperaments as children are correlated with what type of long-term outcomes.

Anecdotally, I know a few other friends and acquaintances with whom, it came out in adult conversation that when they were children they practiced some instrument--usually violin or piano--every day for two hours or more, and their mother was right there at all their lessons, and they achieved some very high level of skill only to lose interest at the university level and do something else entirely. And you wouldn't even know, today, unless you asked, that they had ever played an instrument. Again, I don't know how common this is, but at least one of the people I've had this conversation with speaks in tones of real regret and sadness, and it's just not really the sort of trajectory I want to set my kids on.

I would prefer something more like what I did, where the motivation came from within and I stuck with it; I value amateur music and I find as I get older and my other jobs (neuroscience, parenting) take up more and more of my life, I really value having violin as that door to another world. It's true, it's never too late to start as an adult beginner, but I'm grateful for the fact that I can play a lot of the violin orchestral repertoire, for example, and it's not nearly as hard for me to play in, say, a community or church orchestra, as it would be for an adult beginner. Those are the kinds of goals I have for my kids. Of course, if they wanted to be professional violinists, then yes, they would need to be made aware of the necessity of practicing every day for long hours, but I think that would grow out of having the goal in the first place. Or not--sometimes the goal isn't realistic, given the talent and dedication of a particular student.

The reason I dislike those Suzuki lyrics is not that I dislike the basic message, but I do dislike the idea that it has to have a message like that at all. The original German words to the folk songs are in fact pretty silly. "Fuchs du hast die Gans gestohlen" is a case in point: "Fox, you stole the goose! Give it back! Give it back!" (maybe that's why a few songs later you have to go tell Aunt Rhody that the goose is dead . . . ). "Practice practice every day" strikes me as adult seriousness and pedantry foisted on children before they're ready for it.


August 16, 2006 at 01:34 PM · I used the word play instead of practice and put every day in quotation marks for a reason. I know where you're coming from. I have relatives her age in sports and their parents would like them to excel and offer them the means to do that, and try to persuade and motivate them a little sometimes even, but it isn't of supreme importance to them. From the point of view of the teacher, there's no reason for him to take a student he won't see a lot of progress in, or won't really apply themself. Also, there's no reason for you to pay for lessons that won't benefit her much. To that end, I don't see anything wrong with the lyrics and I don't think they need a parental advisory stamp:) Maybe she could take lessons only part of the year, and play every day during those times. Or if you can continue teaching her yourself and it benefits you both, that's fine too. It's also fine if she doesn't play an instrument at all.

Reading what you wrote about internal motivation, it reminded me of some things I've read here about waiting for the child to want to learn violin. I have no idea whether that's the best philosophy or not, but it was kind of amusing sometimes when the moms were basically trying to tantalize the kids into wanting to do it and writing about their progress. My little niece is some kind of horse riding champ, but if she lost interest it so what, and she probably will someday. Her motivation is internal, and who knows what wheels are spinning in her little head. What I get out of it myself is it's just funny as hell watching her kick a horse around the front yard as well as a 200 lb man would:)

Continuous opportunites are presented to her and she's chosen the things she liked, stayed with some, tried others just a little, and wasn't interested at all in others. Whether or not, and how much, they should be enticed is an interesting question. If I was going to do that, I'd most likely zone in on what they were showing their natural strengths to be rather than get them to do something I thought was cool myself. But then I've given about five minutes total thought in my life to parenting.

August 16, 2006 at 01:01 PM · This is why I'm not a parent! I will say what you probably already know, which is that as a child you have to practice every day in order to realize your potential. Of course, I could have practiced much more when I was a kid, but it was every day. It is a piece of Suzuki dogma (only practice on the days you eat...) but I think it's important too.

Hard to say what to do then, since I can only speak as a violinist and teacher, not a parent. I was "made" to practice every day and ended up happy. Others were made to do the same and ended up like some you've seen. I have to think the way it was done was different, and only you know your relationship with your daughter. It's not a necessity to go with Suzuki though if it's not interesting.

August 16, 2006 at 01:41 PM · Whilst I would love my students to practise every day - I don't think they all would or do. So for the very beginners I say a minimum of 10 - 30 minutes 3 - 5 times a week. It's not much, but it eases them into it. Playing every day would be nice and advisable and I think a little parental encouragement helps. But in my opinion, forcing a child does not necessarily help them develop self-discipline and may make them resent the instrument. And whilst 7 years old is a good age to be practising every day, it sounds like this little girl is doing something musical or music-related every day so surely this is an upkeep and a reflection of her interest in music.

Karen, do you take your daughter to concerts? Maybe she would be inspired to want to "play like that" and this would help her want to practise more as well as seeing some merit in technical ability. Also, you could play games with her to do with technique, like - "How many notes can you play in one bow" or "how long can you hold a note for without it getting softer at the end" or even "how fast can you play the variant in Twinkle Twinkle that has the semiquavers"

August 16, 2006 at 02:19 PM · I second the suggestion of taking her to concerts. Also I would suggest alternating "serious" classical concerts with folk-type music, maybe some Celtic or gypsy-fiddle stuff, maybe even jazz. Classical is fantastic, but sometimes we just need to hear other stuff.

August 16, 2006 at 02:39 PM · Hmm. So maybe I'm not quite in the right category with this thread, if my issues are more about parenting than teaching . . . but I'm feeling much better about my decision to do my own teaching for a while. I have so much flexibility, and I can do all sorts of cool things like go to concerts and have recitals in my living room. I can implement everybody's excellent (and fun) suggestions about semiquavers and games and Celtic fiddle and jazz concerts. We are both especially enjoying the "Adventures in Violinland" books.

I seem to be having a mirror experience to Kevin's when he decided teaching wasn't for him--I never in a million years thought I'd be teaching violin, even to my own kid, but I'm enjoying it, she's enjoying it, and--here's the kicker, she's practicing every day. So maybe it's something I can actually do and do well, in spite of my total lack of teaching credentials or conservatory training.

That was really my whole problem with the Suzuki experience: my daughter did start out motivated, it all came from her, not from me. She begged for lessons and kept asking me "so, when am I going to be able to play violin?" And when she first got the instrument she was thrilled. But the lesson experience turned into a big chore for all of us (me, her, and the teacher). And that was when the lack of motivation to practice set in and when she lost interest and stopped practicing every day.

Jim's question about whether or not students should be "enticed" is something that probably is indeed viewed very differently from the parent's point of view than the teacher's. As a parent, one sees a lot more different kinds of behavior in a kid over time and, I think, gets a more global sense of a kid's overall temperament.

There are some kids who, for whatever reason (and I think it has at least some roots in genetic and/or innate factors), are just slow to warm up in general. They need some form of "enticement" to do just about anything: go to school, play with other kids, do sports, go shopping, you name it. It's not specific to violin or music. If you get one of those sorts of kids as a teacher or coach, you can legitimately blow them off and say "it's not worth teaching them if they're not going to apply themselves." They then go away and stop bothering you--problem solved.

But if you give birth to one of those sorts of kids, you don't have that luxury as much. You, or at least I, end up coming back to the same questions and issues over and over again in different ways as the kid grows and matures and interacts with the world.


August 16, 2006 at 04:00 PM · Just keep on doing what you're doing, Karen.

It would've worked for me, that's for sure.

August 17, 2006 at 10:38 AM · Hi,

I am a mother of a little violin student (6 years, learning since 1 year), and I am new to this forum. I don't play violin myself but piano, and I used to play a lot chamber music, especially with a violin and with strings. My son has decided to prefer the violin to the piano, as he likes the sound. I am living in Germany.

Naturally, I am especially interested in experiences with teaching young students.

In Germany, the Suzuki method is far less popular than in the U.S. and I always wondered why this is, as it seems to have many advantages (except of avoiding reading sheet music, to my personal opinion). Karen, this is really interesting. As all children in Germany sing these little songs, they would be utterly confused to have different textes. But I admit I don't know whether over here they don't just use the original textes. Perhaps you try to get hold of a German language Suzuki book and see yourself.

With regard to practising every day: this is also a very interesting discussion. When my son started with his lessons, we agreed that he practices every day. My argument is: as long as we pay for the lessons, we are consequent and practice, but you can quit if you don't like it any more. This he understands. (My parents had the same argument with my piano lessons, and I am thankful, I never totally quit playing)

I don't believe that a 5, 6, or 7 year old can always draw motivation from itself. This is impossible, simply there ARE days, when children are not in the mood of practicing. In bios of the most admirable musicians, you can read that. Then it is the parent's task to help them. Karen, apparently you are very good at helping your daughter to get into it.

There are other duties for children, like teeth cleaning, some help in the kitchen, school homework etc. These things must be done without discussion, and it is helpful to get into the habit of practicing the instrument without discussions about whether or not. Often, motivation comes with playing.

Adults can be motivated by long term goals ("one day, I want to play in an orchestra", "I want my playing sound as beautiful as this, if I practice hard, the day may come..")

But children's nature is different, they need short time motivations ("wow, these notes were right this time, let's see whether I can do it again", "when I play this with good concentration, mom will be happy"). Short time successes are most helpful.

My little darling often would prefer to skip the practising, but when it's done, he is proud and happy. And nevertheless he said that he "never will quit his violin".


August 17, 2006 at 11:47 AM · Hi Ann,

It's great to meet you and get another perspective from Germany. I'm not German myself, but my husband is, and we live in Massachusetts. It is interesting to hear that the Suzuki method is not as popular in Germany. Overall, my husband's impression is that learning many things doesn't get started as early in Germany as it does here, but that the kids catch up quickly. For example, he did not even try to learn to read any language until he was in first grade, but our daughter was taught, and learned, to read in kindergarten. As an adult, he's very verbal, fluent in 2 languages with a reading knowledge of 2 more, so the late start doesn't seem to have hurt him.

The Suzuki book I have, which I purchased online in the U.S., has text in several languages, including German. And it has all the different titles back-translated into German again--i.e. "Lightly Row" which I know in German as "Haenschen Klein," is translated back into German again as "Rudere sanft."

I don't actually get the impression that lyrics of any kind were/are particularly important to Suzuki himself. Those lyrics that I quoted were some that I just found on the internet, which I believe were written by someone who teaches in a Suzuki program, more recently than Suzuki developed his books.

My daughter's Suzuki teacher actually spent a lot of time teaching her to sing fingerings, not lyrics("Eee-two-two, three-one-one" and so forth). I have mixed feelings about this. I learned this way, and as an adult, I *still* think in first position violin fingerings when I read music. Even when I sing or play piano (where there are different fingerings). I had trouble with moveable-do solfege when I was older, and I coped by "translating," in my mind, back into first position violin fingerings. But I never got very good at solfege. It's almost like first position violin fingerings are my "mother tongue" and everything else is a second language. I didn't do Suzuki, so I'm not saying this "thinking in fingerings" is specific to Suzuki, but it seems to be a part of that method as well. It's helpful at the beginning, but I think it can get in the way, later on, when you try to learn higher positions and different keys. Do others think primarily in violin fingerings? If yes, how do you switch between instruments and positions? What does your mind do? If not, how did you train your mind out of that?

Finally, I agree with you that young kids can't and don't always have internal motivation. That's what I was trying to get at when I said that some kids "need enticement" to do just about anything. All my musings on this thread have been directed at the nature of that enticement. Your point that some things just aren't a choice makes sense.

But I guess I still think there can be a middle ground between forcing practice every single day, making it into some kind of a non-negotiable moral/character "there are two kinds of students, those who practice every day and those who don't" issue, especially in a bad situation where there are emotional factors going on, and not playing at all. I like Mark's "easing into it" approach. I think practicing every day is a good goal, but it's like other goals, you work towards it and don't beat yourself (or others) up about it if you/they don't achieve it perfectly.


August 17, 2006 at 02:47 PM · I posted earlier that Suzuki and its solfege based system works extremely well for non German speakers, particular those of Asian families.

English was not my first language, Taiwanese was. Because of that, I found it very easy to pronounce solfege characters. I suspect that Suzuki was the same way, being German trained but not a German native speaker.

Had I grown up in a German speaking family, there's no question I'd have been far more comfortable singing the old German folk songs in German as opposed to solfege.

August 17, 2006 at 04:59 PM · Karen,perhaps the method written by Egon Sassmanshaus would be most appealing to your daughter.His son is now a famous teacher of talented children running the Starling project at Cinccinati University.You can visit his site at father ,who lived and taught in Germany,wrote a method for children from 4 yrs onwards.The first book for example is nicely illustrated,the notes are printed in large type and most important each new tune has words.Children learn to sing them before they play them.Many traditional folksongs are used and later on many duets.Book 3 is mostly duets.The method was originally written in German but I should think that there is also an English version available in the states.

If children are highly motivated practice should be a pleasure rather than a chore but start with just a few minutes each day and build up from there.Try to practice at the same time each day.

However a word of warning, a mother and daughter teaching situation has a short life .Try to find a teacher in your area that uses your type of method but it is unlikely that anyone will write out pieces especially for her as most good teachers have a curriculum of technical development and their lesson plans are carefully thought out.Once in a while eveyone has to study a piece they dont like but so do professionals.

August 17, 2006 at 06:16 PM · Janet, How interesting! I had not heard of this at all. Unfortunately I don't live anywhere near Cincinnati, but it is good to know about the method (and subscribe to the website ;-). Thanks!

I certainly *hope* the mother-daughter teaching situation has a short life . . . realistically my plan is to do it until she's a bit more emotionally mature (her rejecting a male teacher just because he was male suggested to me that maybe she's not really ready yet to be inflicted on any violin teacher who's a non-relative--and some of the postings here have echoed that sentiment) and we get out of the Suzuki woods. The school district starts them in 3rd grade, I believe, so that's just a year from now; I'll revisit then, or if she genuinely loses interest for some reason other than "I was afraid of my teacher and it felt like she was always yelling at me" and "I'm so tired of playing Mississippi stop-stop."

Kevin, can you direct me to your other posting, or related ones, about how solfege is used in Suzuki, and generally in violin instruction? I don't know much about either system. I remember solfege mainly as the most stressful part of an otherwise enjoyable music theory class.


August 18, 2006 at 04:39 PM · My "Theory and Solfege" thread here discusses this in great detail.

August 20, 2006 at 04:08 AM · Hi Karen!

Some things that might interest you are works written by musical pedagogues. In my early childhood music education class, we talked extensively about how children learn best through play...and also the ideas of Bartok, Kodaly, and some others about how children learn best when they learn music of their culture. Maybe even check out some writings about incorporating multiculturalism into a classroom.

Children respond well when they are able to learn through movement, play, and their cultures (but it's also interesting for them to learn about other cultures).

It's important for them to develop good practice skills early on, which can come across to them as fun, exciting, new, but will prevent them from perfecting bad habits. Also, learning a solid foundation for the technique of holding and playing the instrument is important early on, so they don't have to relearn these things when they're older, not to mention deal with injuries (sometimes debilitating, or fatal for the violin career, if not just years of frustration when they hit wall after wall).

Hope this helps and best of luck and making wonderful music to you and your son!

August 25, 2006 at 08:31 AM · Hi,

Karen and everybody else, I also think it is great meeting you! This is a fantastic forum!

Karen wrote: "Overall, my husband's impression is that learning many things doesn't get started as early in Germany as it does here, but that the kids catch up quickly." Generally, I have the same impression, but many kids start violin playing at the age of 5. (I started piano at that age). But there is also music education starting very early, at 2, and then throughout Kindergarten (for those who afford it, it is not free).

However, my son's former early music teacher recommends not to start an instrument earlier than at 6 or 7, and to do singing and general music education instead. We did not follow his advice.

Of course the early beginners do not advance as quickly as elder ones, but I believe it lays an important ground. My 6 year old son, after a year of lessons, no plays nicely in tune and in a good rythm. Also his bowing has improved, although every time we practice we work specifically about it. But he still sticks with the first position fingerings and probably will do so for another while. (Example: "Are you sleeping? Brother John?", which we can do as a kanon now, me singing or on the piano)

(On start of language learning: that is probably really late in Germany, nevertheless I observe that generally our foreign language skills are much better than those of Americans ;-))

You write that the Suzuki book has all the different titles back-translated into German again. This is really ridiculous! No kid would like to work with this! I think the lyrics are very important. My son is much better motivated when he knows already a song that he shall play. When practicing, we sing a lot, but we vary: We sing the lyrics, the names of the notes, the rythm, and sometimes, more rarely, the fingerings.

I agree of what you criticize about too much fingerings singing. As experienced with the piano, I see a danger in singing too much fingerings, because later they can vary. I do not want my son to associate notes to closely with specific fingerings. Thats why I also hesitate to scribble too many into the notes. Kids may learn to read fingerings for the tone, instead of reading the note. In my early piano learning, I had the same effect because little beginners start with some fixed positions. I tended to think of notes too much as of finger numbers.

A naive question: Isn't solfege quite the same as singing little songs with lyrics? For example, a small terz down is "cockoo, cockoo". Or large seconds up is the start of "are you sleeping". Also a little child can transpose it easily into other keys.

By the way, the only really serious critics I have about what I have learned about the Suzuki method is that the kids don't learn reading sheet music from the very beginning. This must also be practised a lot. My little darling now sometimes starts exploring pieces he finds later in his violin book (by the way, his curiosity being raised by titles of songs).


August 25, 2006 at 09:05 AM · A really very naive follow-up question comes to my mind:

In this forum, people keep quoting the song "Twinkle twinkle". Now I get the suspicion that perhaps I know this song with another text. Would anybody be so kind and indicate some first notes down here, so I can guess the melody?

Thank you


August 25, 2006 at 10:57 AM · e e h h c# c# h__

August 25, 2006 at 11:26 AM · Key of A Major:







by W.A. Mozart

August 25, 2006 at 11:31 AM · Impressive! You should be a musician!

August 25, 2006 at 11:58 AM · Wow, thank you!!

Yes, of course I know this! It is a wll known Christmas song with a rather silly text going like "Tomorrow Santa will come..." explains that this text has been written about 150 years ago, but the melody is from a French folk song "Ah vous dirai je Maman". Mozart has used it for piano variations.



August 25, 2006 at 05:21 PM · Hi Karen,

I have been reading this discussion and agree with some of the posters that you seem to be finding your way of working with your own child.......this is the most important thing and I think that Suzuki himself would be pleased with your approach. As someone said earlier, it sounds like the teacher was not a good fit for you and your daughter, and you need to either find a new teacher or discover your own way. It is however much harder to make your own road than to travel on a well-used path and remove the few boulders you find on the way! It is unfortunate that the other teacher you played for couldn't make room for you in their program, but it may be that their group would not be a good fit for you. Don't think of it as a rejection, you just haven't found the right person yet.

a few points: 1)there are no official words to the Suzuki songs: people make up their own words, and these change as they are passed from person to person. The songs were originally German folk songs, largely because of Suzuki's early training and his study in Germany. I have had many students who were familiar with the original German songs and we have used this knowledge to discuss how things can be changed by each person that learns them (an important point in an oral tradition) The only reason that Suzuki teachers stick with the notes and bowings as they are in the books is because in the mother-tongue method the children use the reference recordings as a guide, and of course this enables them to play with any other child who has studied the method. My own students have had the pleasure of playing in concerts with Suzuki students from all over the world who share the same repertoire and same knowledge base which they have used as a means of coming together to make music.....not a bad idea.

2) Many Suzuki trained teachers have different ideas about the validity of using words, finger numbers,etc to teach. I always refer to the note names from the beginning, but will also sing finger numbers, or make up words depending on what works best with the student. Finger numbers are a really bad idea if the child is already learning piano and using a different numbering system......I will often touch the finger rather than using a number in order to guide the student in a lesson situation.

3) The idea of delaying reading was that the posture,position,and attention to tone and intonation were to the focal point of early learning. Suzuki's young students were also at a a pre-reading stage and were not reading Japanese until they were in more advanced books. Your daughter is 7 and so there is no reason that she shouldn't be working on her music-reading skills, just don't insist that she play from the page. She needs to be watching her bow, listening to her tone production and thinking about finger position, not translating symbols from the page. Most Suzuki teachers I know put off reading until the end of book one or begining of book two, but are working on note recognition and ear training from the beginning.

Whatever you can bring in from your family experience that enhance your daughter's interaction with the violin will help to keep her joy alive, and make pacticing into an activity you share happily. There is no way that any parent is going to find a way to always make it fun, and we know that daily practice is the best way to improve your skill and keep moving forward. Strive for the optimum but don't be a slave to it.

4) do some reading: Ability Development from Age Zero or Nurtured by Love (both by Shinichi Suzuki) or To Learn with Love (William and Constance Starr) if you want to find out more about Suzuki method or how about Szilvay Colourstrings method? Not very much used in the US but very interesting, very much singing/solfege based at the beginning but immediately starts with note reading and exercises that take the child around the whole instrument (


September 5, 2006 at 08:26 AM · I just came back from a 2-week trip, where I was in Germany and Ireland. Did not take violin along, neither did daughter. We just had way too much luggage already and a crammed social schedule ;-).

However, I did buy a book and CD of Irish Fiddle music.

Anne, about "Twinkle Twinkle," the same tune is used in America also for the "ABC song" and "Baa Baa Black Sheep." There's kind of a cute Sesame Street video about this where one of the characters can't decide which one of these three his "favorite song" is, and then all the characters end up singing together. I find the Mozart variations very beautiful, myself. But, even more than my daughter did, I came to loathe "Mississippi stop stop" (which is playing all the notes of that song with the rhythm of four sixteenth notes followed by 2 eighth notes). I had a friend who told me her teacher's version was "Mississippi catfish," which was a little better.

Jen, thanks for the references. I've read _Ability Development from Age Zero_ and I have pretty mixed feelings about it. On one hand the idea that any child can learn music is extraordinarily compelling. It is a breath of fresh air against a lot of mean and limiting adult attitudes that make children feel bad and do nothing for their musical education. I also like the early section on practicing where Suzuki points out that nagging, scolding, and commanding are generally bad teaching practice. He points out that you don't hold a seed in your hand and yell at it "sprout! sprout! sprout!" You give it fertilizer, water, and sunshine instead.

However, I find many of the attitudes towards parenting and gender roles expressed in this book to be dated, sexist, and culturally ignorant. There is a particularly smug passage near the end of the book that starts out with "The lives of American mothers are very busy with shopping and social functions . . . " and goes on with "In Japan, it is normal for the mother of a three-year-old violin student to come to the lessons, learn the violin, and teach the child at home. However, American mothers complain that they are very busy and do not have the time . . . "

But much more than these self-righteous digs at American mothers, which I suppose are mostly a product of the 1969 publication date, the belief articulated in this book that nurture is everything (e.g. "It All Depends on How Children Are Raised") bugs me because it's simply wrong. Okay, the book was published in 1969, but psychology, developmental neuroscience, learning and memory, and genetics, to name a few fields, have advanced a great deal since then. We know more now, and have been through so many swings of the nature-nurture pendulum that it makes one dizzy. One doesn't have to agree with everything that, say, Steven Pinker, Judith Rich Harris, E.O. Wilson, Daniel Goleman, Howard Gardner, and others, have to say (I don't), but one should, I think, at least be engaged in the debate and consider basic neurobiology, theories of personality and learning styles, psychology of temperament, the role of parents and birth order, gender roles, and so on.

Suzuki himself, at the very end of the book, sounds as if scientific rigor is (or was) his goal. He says he thinks the "Seashore Test" is outdated. I'd never heard of the Seashore Test before, so I Googled it, and it was actually quite interesting. It was a "scientific" test of musical ability developed by psychology professor Carl Seashore and used in the early 20th century. There is more about it here:

It has fallen so far out of favor and/or public consciousness that it doesn't even have a Wikipedia entry that I can find. But I guess it must have been pretty influential way back then; Suzuki rightly refers to it as the "psychology of the last century."

But now, into another new century, _Ability Development_ is looking just as dated to me as the Seashore Test did to Suzuki. If the philosophy articulated in this book is really still forming the basis of modern Suzuki teaching and practice (is it?), I'd be more concerned about that than about any issues dealing with when reading music is introduced or not.

Karen Allendoerfer

September 5, 2006 at 12:02 PM · Pedagogy is an uncertain but honest attempt to classify the unclassifiable.

September 6, 2006 at 01:12 AM · Bravo, Kevin.

September 7, 2006 at 07:00 AM · Karen,

I haven't finished reading all the posts, but I had to respond to this.

"Practice practice every day" strikes me as adult seriousness and pedantry foisted on children before they're ready for it.

I have an entirely different take on the words. Notice the words say "Every day we GET to practice." Practicing violin is a privaledge. Remember Suzuki got his program running in post World War II Japan. What a privaledge for children of a war torn and defeated country to GET to do something as wonderful as violin everyday! What's wrong is the attitude that daily practice is boring, pedantic, and too serious. It's only too serious if you're not having fun practicing. VIOLIN IS FUN! Practicing SHOULD be fun! It sounds like you have some great ideas on how to make it fun at home, like "kitty" being the teacher,etc. On the other hand, self-discipline is a necessary part of violin playing. If your daughter really doesn't want to work on getting correct technique, she will eventually quit when the pieces get too hard to be able to play with incorrect technique. It's just too frustrating.

As for your daughter being rejected by the teacher, I'm sure that was painful, but can you really blame the teacher? As a teacher myself, I know that it can be very frustrating when students do not regularly practice. It definately takes a lot more out of me than a usual lesson. Considering that I teach 5-6.5 hours in a row 6 days a week, (that's on top of my daily practice, helping to run our music school, planning private and group lessons, running masterclases, and doing research to better my teaching, somewhere in there I'm supposed to be finishing my grad degree too...) I'm already very tired by the end of the week. Teaching, especially young children takes incredible focus and a lot of energy. There's a lot of thinking on your feet and analysis of technical problems, how to fix them, etc. I can't imagine how exausted and frustrated I would be if none of my students practiced on a daily basis. Plus, it's boring for the student to be working on the same thing every week, and it's hard on the teacher as well. For teachers with a wait list, of course they will pick the students that they think will be the most committed. It's an unfortunate fact, but it's necessary for teachers who want to maintain their love of teaching. Otherwise they'll burn out.

Last of all, Suzuki is definately not for everyone. But there are a few things to consider before you completely disregard it. For one thing, not all people who say they teach Suzuki actually follow the philosophy, and for another, it all depends on the teacher. Each teacher will teach a bit differently. Some teach well, some don't. Among good teachers there are so many diffent styles of teaching. Some children are not suited to certain styles. Suzuki is supposed to be a flexible, plyable method. It should be able to be adapted for the individual. Anyone who makes it dogmatic and unchangeable just doesn't get it and clearly knows nothing about Dr. Suzuki either. It's certainly not what he intended. It sounds like you've had a bad experience with Suzuki method. But please, don't judge it as entirely bad just because it's not for your daughter. For very young children it can be great when it's done right. I'm working on not taking it personally when Suzuki teaching (and indirectly) Suzuki teachers are criticized on this forum. However, seeing as I'm spending my life constantly striving to be a better Suzuki teacher, it can still ruffle me a bit when people angrily dismiss something I believe in.

It sounds like your daughter would do best with either a fiddle teacher or yourself. (I think your daughter would probably love fiddle.) From what you said I think neither traditional training nor Suzuki training is what you're really looking for. Both require quite a bit of time and commitment. Since your daughter loves music, why not just make it a fun time with mommy? She can keep piano as her "serious" instrument.

Anyway, enough from me for today. It's wonderful that your daughter loves music so much. Whatever path you take, I hope she grows up loving the violin.


September 7, 2006 at 08:06 AM · Ok, now I finished reading all the posts. Jeez, this thread takes a long time to read!

Karen, I think you are on the right track with your daughter. While I honestly don't know that she'll make tons of progress in terms of technique during this mother daughter time, I think it will do wonders for her motivation and enjoyment of the instrument. If she decides to return to a teacher a little later on, she may have to go back and rework some things, but I think it's a small price to pay. You're a devoted parent to do this for her.

On a side note, I think Suzuki is most effective with the youngest kids. I generally start kids out at 3 or 4. This is very different than a 6 or 7 year old beginner. While we do work on some games to learn music reading skills, they are too young to be playing and reading at the same time. They generally cannot even read words yet. Suzuki teachers these days teach reading a lot earlier in the repertoire I think. Also, I don't teach kids to sing the finger numbers. I've never heard of that being a Suzuki thing. I agree with you though, I don't like to have kids sing finger numbers. Making up their own words is better and more fun.

I'll be the first to admit there are still problems, particularly with the teaching of music reading in Suzuki. But things are changing. Teachers are recognizing that it's a problem and are doing something about it.

Ok, now I'll stop typing. Seriously.


September 7, 2006 at 10:38 AM · Laura,

Thanks for your comments. I'm really not trying to be angry or judgemental about Suzuki because it didn't work for my daughter. I agree that for some kids with particular temperaments it is a wonderful thing. Those just don't happen to be my kids.

My problem is really more with a broader philosophy of parenting that I see here in the Boston suburbs where I live. This philosophy is very performance centered, group centered, and, I think, unhealthily focused on getting children to "achieve" at an early age. There is also a lot of emphasis on mothers being highly involved and subverting their own needs to those of their children as opposed to having independent lives and interests of their own. This attitude manifests itself in the way Suzuki seems to be presented and taught around here--whether that actually is what Suzuki himself would have intended, or would intend today were he alive, is not for me to judge, although some of those comments of his in _Ability Development_ really do sound as if Suzuki at least at one time held to rather sexist, smug, and dogmatic notions about the roles and lives of mothers. But then, he was a genius and a visionary--and what visionary genius doesn't have his or her problematic personality issues?

I actually think the problem is really with Suzuki becoming a brand name as opposed to a school of thought. It's not for everyone--and so what? It shouldn't be. Nothing is for everyone.


September 7, 2006 at 10:57 AM · Laura,

I just wanted to add a couple of points to respond specifically to your first post. I agree that violin *should* be fun, that it is a privilege, and that it was indeed wonderful for children in post-war Japan (and today) to have the privilege to practice the violin.

However, my problem with those words, which were not written by Suzuki himself as far as I know, is that taken out of context they come across to me as insincere and I think they would come across that way to many children too. Some kids have a certain kind of built-in bullsh** detector that, when they see an adult making some (to them) outrageous claim like that, it just undermines the adult's credibility. Another example: when adults go on and on about how good spinach tastes and try to force it on kids who don't agree. I'm not trying to run down spinach, I like it and eat it myself (not every day, but regularly). But after a while, the adults just make themselves look ridiculous; and they don't actually get the unwilling kids to eat spinach. In fact, they create outright hostility towards spinach by their words and actions, where before there might have been only mild indifference and disinterest.

That's where I think my daughter had ended up with practicing in the middle of last year: the unfortunate teacher situation had created the bad attitude toward practicing. I blame the teacher only for not recognizing that.


September 7, 2006 at 05:39 PM · Hi Karen,

I wrote a longer post that didn't post for some reason... maybe it was too long. The gist of it though, was that although neuroscience, psychology etc have advanced quite a bit in the last 50 years or so, the research from these fields doesn't exactly negate Suzuki's approach. Yes, we have a better understanding now of the modularity of intelligence, for example, and the importance of biology in learning (well we ALWAYS knew that..), but it seems to me that the differences imposed by biology, the signals from extra endowment,only manifest themselves at the very extremes of performance and learning (given a group of healthy, more-or-less normal students). So, these differences are the most important influence on learning and achievement only at the level of international competition winners or great soloists or whatever. At any level less than that, environmental factors are more important (again given the obvious assumption that we're talking about more-or-less normally endowed kids.) So, yes- although an unusually endowed kid will outstrip his/her peers, the basic idea that anybody can learn the violin to an ALMOST arbitrarily high level of achievement, given a well-crafted environment, is still certainly true.

As for "learning styles, gender differences" etc., it seems to me that a lot of this "science" is not well supported or, at least, is often misapplied. At the school where I teach, for example, there is much talk of learning styles, "differentiated teaching" etc. Unfortunately, everybody is ignoring the much larger problem, which is that most of the students here come from low income projects, have one (or less) parents etc. etc.


September 7, 2006 at 05:41 PM · Hi Howard,

Thanks for your response. You raise some potentially good points, but I'm not persuaded by the arguments, in that you haven't provided any evidence for said arguments (perhaps due to the space limitations you refer to).

I would be interested in reading exactly what you think is "pure junk" and why, and how you have come by the idea that individual innate differences only matter at the highest levels of achievement--but with that, I think we're getting too far off-topic for this thread. I would be happy to start another thread focused on nature/nurture and teaching philosophies/beliefs if there were interest.


September 7, 2006 at 09:43 PM · Karen;

Thank you for your posts........and Howard thank you especially for saying hat I wished to say. Certainly in my experience of over 20 years teaching using the Suzuki's principles, I have had students who seemed to have more immediate ability: better dexterity, more natural sense of musical concepts, more ability to play expressively. There will always be the ones who seem to have played it all before and as a teacher I am just helping them rediscover what they already know. The most powerful and gratifying experiences I have had as a teacher are undoubtedly the students who weren't "naturals": the ones with some learning challenges or physical challenges, the Asperger or ADD diagnosed kids. I have seen or head of children with Down's syndrome, cerebral palsy, blindness, and deformed limbs who have been able to learn an instrument and play with other children through the Suzuki method. I'm sure that with the right teacher, any child who wants to play can learn to make music, and the Suzuki method is the best way that I have found to facilitate this. In spite of what may have been his preconceptions about mothers, or his "dated" concept of "nature vs. nurture" his most important contribution stands: "Where love is deep, much can be accomplished".


September 8, 2006 at 01:56 AM · Hi Karen,

If there's time tonight, I'll post that very question! The short answer to you though is that the burden of proof is on the folks who cook up a theory and try to sell it to me or the public schools. So far, I haven't seen a lot of support for such things as having older children "cross crawl" to help them establish better connections between "the left and the right brain" or even worse. We also have "Multiple Intelligence Model" schools, based loosely on Howard Gardner's work and completely disavowed by Gardner himself... See what I mean? So, I am really skeptical of the "science" behind some of these strategies given what I've seen of the implementation in schools and in society...

I do not mean, however, to disparage the real work that's gone on in neuroscience and psychology etc. in the past 50 years. Compared to science of 1950, we might as well be space aliens.

More later,


September 8, 2006 at 02:23 AM · Hi Karen,

By the way, I noticed on your profile that you had done "post doc" work. What is your field?



September 8, 2006 at 03:11 AM · By the way, Karen, you left out the last few lyrics of "Fuchs, du hast die ganz gestolen." which are, if I recall correctly, something like "give the goose back or I'll shoot you!" Now THAT'S a great message for a youngster! Personally, I prefer the more mundane, but nicer "practice" theme...

September 8, 2006 at 04:25 AM · Ask and ye shall receive. I have posted a "Nature vs. Nurture" discussion here on

September 8, 2006 at 08:56 AM · Howard,

About "Fuchs," yes, you're right about the lyrics. It's a little like Grimm's Fairy Tales, I guess--in the original Cinderella, the stepsisters cut off their toes to fit in the glass slipper and there's a bloody mess. They're grim, and I wouldn't read them to my children with a message in mind. I think the context is important.

My point was (as I stated in an earlier post), and remains, that I don't think it's necessary, or even desirable, that these songs have a "message" at all, especially not one that is out of context, pedantic, and all about personal achievement.


September 8, 2006 at 09:07 AM · Jennifer,

Thanks for your comments, especially this:

"The most powerful and gratifying experiences I have had as a teacher are undoubtedly the students who weren't "naturals": the ones with some learning challenges or physical challenges, the Asperger or ADD diagnosed kids. I have seen or head of children with Down's syndrome, cerebral palsy, blindness, and deformed limbs who have been able to learn an instrument and play with other children through the Suzuki method."

I am very glad to hear from you about instances where special needs kids were helped by the Suzuki method. From the teacher's side, it makes sense that you would see, and talk about, the kids for whom the method worked.

This is probably for another thread as well, because it's not cultural, but I had a few introductory thoughts. I am coming from an anecdotal, parental perspective, but I have gathered a different impression from yours after talking to other parents with kids who aren't "naturals" about their experiences. I am offering this in the spirit of dialog, to give an airing to a different point of view, not to disagree with or dismiss what you wrote, but rather to try to complement it.

As examples, I'll bring up two friends who have hyperactive sons, one has a diagnosed motor learning delay but is a brilliant scientist, far above grade level, and now going to a science magnet school. He had Suzuki violin instruction for about 6 weeks before everyone agreed just to stop it because he just couldn't sit still for it, couldn't follow it, couldn't do it. He plays saxophone now (he's about 11). I was in a summer community orchestra with another woman who described her experience with taking her son to Suzuki lessons as "he spent the entire time running around the room spinning like a top." He lasted in Suzuki for only 2 or 3 lessons. He now plays jazz guitar. I think the outcome for these two particular kids was just fine, my point being that Suzuki really *isn't* for everyone, it's not or at least shouldn't be a household brand name, and that no, "anybody" really can't do this, and *that's okay*. And I don't think I'm being dismissive to say so.

My other point has to do with "hyperactive" kids (officially ADHD or not) who can't sit still and don't do well following sequential instructions, which is how both of these mothers described their sons. Whereas 30 years ago when I was a kid starting to play violin, the gender balance in school music programs was around 50/50, I've anecdotally observed boys losing interest in violin these days. The majority of kids I see toting violin cases to the school programs and in a local youth orchestra are girls. The news about the Indy Competition on this site also points out that 15 of the final 16 are women.

These observations make me curious about a number of things, such as, are boys, in fact, losing interest in playing violin relative to girls (or is this just a local, anecdotal phenomenon)? If true, does this matter? Are there gender differences in how kids respond to instructional methods? Is this in any way similar or related to the dropoff in male college applicants or boys' perceived difficulties with structured learning environments? I'm certainly not trying to bash Suzuki here or blame the method for any of this, but I am questioning how helpful the general view is, in this time and place, that "anybody" can learn to play the violin, if it is not backed up with some more nuanced understanding of individual differences and learning styles.

Finally, you quoted:

"Where love is deep, much can be accomplished".

I liked this quote when I first read it. And upon reflection I mostly still like it, but with one caveat that to me is important. I think there is a danger with linking "love" too closely with "accomplishment". Where love is deep, a lot of good things can happen, many of which have little to nothing to do with personal achievement or accomplishment.


September 8, 2006 at 01:15 PM · Karen,

You write as if I misunderstood the point of the post about Suzuki lyrics! I didn't- you were very clear that you wondered why Suzuki didn't use the original german titles and lyrics. Your point (at least in that post) did not seem to be that the lyrics shouldn't carry a message, but that the connection with the german originals was being obscured by changing the titles of the songs and using "pedantic" lyrics.

You also said of Grimm's fairy tales, that you "wouldn't read them to my children with a message in mind. I think the context is important." How interesting...How would you propose to read those stories to your children without conveying a message? I think Cinderella getting her toes cut off is a pretty clear message, no matter how you read it! In what context would that not be gruesome?

I don't object to the "practice practice" lyrics because I don't think it's necessarily bad to teach children to work hard and that good things and respect come from working hard. In japanese culture, love and respect and "pulling for the group" are linked more than in american culture. Too bad for us, as we could use more "linking" of love and hard work in US culture too.

In the interest of honesty, I do think the point about practice could be made more subtly... but that's a matter of taste. I don't think the students hear the pedantry of it- to them it's just a funny song and they probably get the irony of it.

September 8, 2006 at 01:01 PM · Oh and Karen, why did you thank Jennifer for her comments, but not me??



September 8, 2006 at 02:45 PM · Howard,

I thanked you for your comments several messages up (the one Posted on September 7, 2006 at 10:41 AM (MST))--although frankly I doubt anyone else who has made it this far cares, and in an already lengthly thread I'd just as soon take the irrelevant personal asides offlist. Feel free to email me or answer the email I sent you.

To get back to the original topic and try to clarify what I was getting at, I will make another attempt here. I'm not necessarily opposed in principle to changing lyrics and folk songs and fairy tales to suit the audience. As oral traditions, I'm sure they've changed repeatedly over the centuries. There are folks who hate Disney and who won't show or read Disney versions of fairy tales to their kids. I'm not in that camp. One can also find pretty gruesome, albeit beautifully illustrated, versions of fairy tales in children's libraries. I'm not sure what the point of these is, either. I ran into a version of Snow White a couple of years ago that my eye was drawn to by the beautiful illustrations but that ended with a gruesome scene of the stepmother being killed by some burning shoes that were stuck on her feet. And I changed the ending before I read it to my daughter, who couldn't read yet, so didn't know the difference. I still gave the stepmother a comeuppance for her behavior but I didn't make it as gruesome. I did that based on my knowledge of my daughter's individual temperament and what I thought would and wouldn't upset her.

On the other hand, my daughter isn't particularly bothered by the narrator of "Fuchs" threatening to shoot a fox with his gun to protect his goose. She has some (German) relatives who use a similar type of hyperbole, "black humor" they call it, in their speech. This type of dark humor is not in fact to my taste and I don't use it myself, but I think in the past few years it has been instructive for my daughter (and me) to learn to understand it more, defang it, see it for what it is, and not overreact to it by getting all upset about it or taking it too literally. Stories, fairy tales, folk songs are all just that: fantasy. They aren't supposed to be taken literally. To me, this is an important use of music education, to spark the imagination. Music has historically been about many things other than hard work and achievement; it has been about the sacred and the divine, about facing darkness in the human psyche, about building communities. I am lamenting the loss of that type of context for music education in favor of one that, with its emphasis on personal achievement, strikes me as less rich.

Even that business about only practicing on the days you eat takes on a different connotation when you consider it in the context of postwar Japan vs. modern North America. Probably in that time and place there was a nonzero chance of actually having days where you didn't eat, so it meant something real. But it's pretty different today in the context of the middle class American student population that can afford violin lessons. By and large, we've got too many opportuntities to eat these days, and many of them are opportunities we would be better off declining, rather than continuing to view them as rare and precious. In my opinion, the analogy isn't all that compelling anymore. In any case, perhaps I did misunderstand you, and I apologize for that.

And Howard, thanks so much, again and again !!



September 8, 2006 at 03:54 PM · Hah Karen, thanks! Perhaps I was being a bit cantankerous, since I HAVEN'T eaten yet! I guess I sympathize with the fox, having cooked a tasty goose not so long ago...

On the subject of lyrics, gruesome or otherwise, I've noticed that my kids at school don't know ANY traditional songs. I wonder sometimes if the Suzuki rep shouldn't reflect more of the local culture i.e. U.S. patriotic and folk songs. You do make a great point about using german folk songs and then...changing them. Can you imagine if the books had, for example, "This Land Is My Land" renamed "Pretty Lotus" or something? It reminds me a bit of the ruckus over the "latinized" national anthem a few months ago...



ps I DID answer your email!!

September 8, 2006 at 10:13 PM · Hello, I just wanted to clarify regarding Suzuki lyrics you guys've been discussing about. I am from Japan and as you can see, there are titles in English and Japanese. Most of the songs in Book 1 are the songs most of Japanese kids grew up singing. And the lyrics may not be directly related to original context. But it is not definitely "practice practice..." Lightly Row is titled "cho-cho" meaning butterfly in Japanese and lyrics is telling a butterfly to fly from one flower to the other. Song of the Wind is titled "Kogitsune" meaning Baby Fox in Japanese describing a little fox playing with tree branches and prentending putting on a makeup with mushed fallen leaves. Go tell Aunt Rhody is titled "Musunde Hiraite" meaning open and close in Japanese and this is more of opening your hand, close your hand, like a play song for pre-schoolers. And if you grew up in Japan, you've learned these songs in school. Although I'm not pro-Suzuki nor Anti-Suzuki, I don't think it's fair to judge without knowing if Dr. Suzuki really made up that "practice, practice" lyric. I am assuming in the process of choosing songs, he intentionally chose the songs most familier to Japanese children. They are all cute songs. And you can't always directly translate one language to another exactly because we may not have same expressions that are used in your country. I have no intention of debating what works for who. I just wanted to give you some info regarding the song lyrics.

September 9, 2006 at 01:16 AM · Thanks Jiji! That really does help. I didn't know that about the songs and just assumed that Suzuki was referencing the german version of the songs.

September 9, 2006 at 02:41 AM · Karen,

I do believe that Suzuki is not for everyone. Not because there are kids out there who are not capable of learning violin, but because some don't really want to play violin, or some families value other things more highly and want a less serious approach to music to allow time for the things they value more, or the parents are just too busy to be heavily involved in home practice. There's nothing wrong with this and there's nothing wrong with this. It's just a fact. There's an infinite number of reasons why it's not for everyone, but I do think that every child has the POTENTIAL to be able to play. They won't all learn to play well, but the potential is there. I've seen kids with Down's Syndrome be able to play very solidly at a book 2 or 3 level. I know a little girl who is almost deaf who can play. Even with hearing aids she can barely hear. It's more difficult and children with such disabilities probably won't get nearly as far as most children but it's amazing how much they well they can play in spite of their added difficulties. If they can do it, ANYONE can.

A couple of problems I see with Suzuki students is that probably at least half of them study with teachers who are not actually certified Suzuki teachers. The teachers merely have the Suzuki book, but have no training in actually teaching the method correctly. If you just teach the music from the book and do not implement other aspects of the method, there are a lot of holes in the child's education. The other problem is that a lot of Suzuki kids stay with the method through high school. This is WAY too long in my view. Kids should switch to traditional around 13 or 14 at the latest. It's better if students have finished the books by then, but if they haven't, (which tends to be the case in America these days because kids have so many other activities) it's time to move on. But I know most Suzuki teachers would disagree with me on that point. Lastly, many Suzuki students have learned outdated German style book under the arm bowing. This is my biggest beef with Suzuki method. But then, that type of incorrect bowing is not a part of the philosophy, so hopefully it'll die out with time. None of these problems are a direct result of the philosophy though, I think they are more a result of the teacher. So ultimately, my point is that the failures you've seen are not failures on a part of the philosphy, but the teacher's failure, or some other circumstances in the child's environment.

As for the sexism and all that you saw in Dr. Suzuki's writings, you have to take into account that he was a Japanese man in the 60s. Back then in Asia in particular, there were some very set ideas about motherhood and a woman's job as a mother. If he had been alive at a later time, I doubt he would have written or believed such things. He may have had faults, but the more I've learned about him, the more I think he was an inspired and noble character who loved people, particularly children, a man of spiritual depth and certainly worthy of respect whether or not his system is for everyone.


September 9, 2006 at 05:17 AM · "As for the sexism and all that you saw in Dr. Suzuki's writings, you have to take into account that he was a Japanese man in the 60s."

OR you have to take into account that perhaps he was just a keen observer. I think there are many lines of evidence that point to some pretty fundamental differences in the ways in which "American" mothers (read "Ango-american") and Japanese mothers viewed and view education, consumption etc. In particular, I think we (American fathers and mothers) feel we're not supposed to do any of the teaching- after all, that's what the teacher is for! So why should we muck around in the lesson and annoy the teacher when we could be doing errands like shopping? That sort of attitude could be innocently and understandably misinterpreted by folks from other cultures where parental input in education is more highly valued. So, in my opinion, his comments on American motherhood are really more sociology than sexism.

September 9, 2006 at 09:07 PM · Karen... great idea for you.

Instead of letting her learn those songs. Teach her basic Bach -- then progress from there. I remember singing fugues lines when I was a kid and now I can sing whole symphonies and sonatas and partitas and it just makes my understanding of music deeper. If anything, learn Bach.


September 10, 2006 at 03:45 AM · Yeah, that's a great idea. I have some words to go with the unaccompanied sonatas and partitas...

Just kidding... I have no such thing.

September 10, 2006 at 05:54 AM · Hi Karen,

I haven't been reading this thread because I wasn't interested in the original topic, but I, too, am a mom who's started "homeschooling" her daughter on violin. I agree that at least in the U.S., the only instruction available to small children (mine is 3) is Suzuki, and it isn't the best method for everyone. We started my daughter with a Suzuki teacher nine months ago, and while she seemed to be a very good and patient teacher who'd had success with kids of similar age, it just didn't work for Kiera.

I suspect that the structured method of Suzuki works better with certain personality types (including mine, though I didn't do Suzuki), but with my free-spirited, easily distractible daughter, we had to try something else. I've had to learn new ways of communicating with her (see my most recent blog post for details), and we spend far more time talking than playing. This seems to be exactly the opposite of the imitation-based method of Suzuki, but I personally feel that she's been making better progress as I learn to speak her language.

As with many aspects of violin, the choice of method and/or teacher is very personal, and no amount of advice from strangers can substitute for knowing yourself and your daughter and acting on what you think is best. That's what I say, when it gets too tempting to second-guess myself, anyway. :)

September 10, 2006 at 07:17 AM · I know of another system that works well for small children. It's called Adventures in Violinland, and it's by Shirley Givens. What I like best about it is it's broken down into tiny bits, so there are always new lessons to learn. It is also very thorough. I highly recommend it. It develops the ear and introduces note reading in a toddler-friendly manner.

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