Suzuki vs O'Connor method - caveats?

Edited: October 8, 2018, 6:37 PM · As I'm moving out of the area I'm in right now, I'll have to be scouting a new violin teacher. Both my current teacher and another one I've contacted do both Suzuki and O'Connor books.

I'm wondering what I'll be giving up with each avenue? I'm assuming O'Connor won't move me towards playing in a community orchestra (though that feels like a long shot). However, I already have a band or two, where improv, blues, etc, would be most useful.

I do want to get adequate technique, regardless.

I’d appreciate hearing from folks who have actual experience with both, and have information, not a political debate about the two.

Replies (29)

October 8, 2018, 4:53 PM · How did the O'Connor method gain any traction?

Is it any really any better than All for Strings or other methods? Or just the same stuff repackaged to take advantage of O'Connor's name recognition?

It's not necessarily a rhetorical question as I haven't used the O'Connor method. Feel free to chime in and contradict me if his method offers anything new.

October 8, 2018, 5:56 PM · Google O'Connor Suzuki violin and sit back for an hour or two, if you enjoy reading invective.

Mark O'Connor doesn't think much of Suzuki.

October 8, 2018, 8:05 PM · The O'Connor Method is great. My son was trained using it, and had a top seat in his by-audition prize-winning orchestra through High School. O'Connor mixes traditional American music with jazz, swing, blues, and classical. He also teaches improvisation within the pieces.

O'Connor thought it was odd that American violin students were learning to play violin using European and Japanese music when America has a rich and varied repertoire of violin music. Furthermore, he feels that violinists should be able to understand how to improvise and make their own music.

Because of the O'Connor method, my son can walk into just about any musical group and play with them, be they bluegrass, swing, jazz, or classical orchestra. But he really loves bluegrass!

October 8, 2018, 8:11 PM · Thanks George.
October 8, 2018, 10:23 PM · My two cents - the Suzuki method is amazing for young kids. But I'm talking about the whole method, not just the books. The mother tongue approach, the parent-teacher-student triangle, the practice partner, etc. It works amazingly well in that comprehensive setting.

But for an adult student, it is an entirely different thing. Adults aren't practicing with a parent (hopefully!) or even a partner. They don't have to play by ear initially because they are developmentally too young to read. They are starting in a very different place developmentally.

If you were under age 10, I would hands down suggest Suzuki (done correctly) over O'Connor. There is no doubt in my mind. But for an adult student, it is an entirely different matter. The books, for the most part, just become choice of repertoire.

The first thing you need to figure out is what your goal is. If it is to become a technically proficient player with good posture, good technique, and so forth, I would find a traditional classical teacher (who may or may not use the Suzuki repertoire). I would suggest this even if you plan to eventually play folk or pop styles. If you just want to jam around and not be worried much about technique, then find a fiddle teacher. (I'm generalizing a bit here, of course, as there are great fiddle teachers who do teach technique out there, and terrible classical teachers who don't, but you get the general idea.)

As for what you play, most teachers who take adult students--and even older kids--are more than happy to customize repertoire choices. My youngest is a huge fiddle fan. She goes to a regular Suzuki teacher who supplements her classical rep with a bunch of fiddle stuff.

From a purely technical standpoint, both methods have aspects that I appreciate. Suzuki is very sequential in terms of learning bowstrokes and techniques, which make playing harder rep easier. O'Connor teaches double stops earlier, which can be really beneficial for students and their LH position. I think your best bet is to do some of both.

October 8, 2018, 11:03 PM · I want proper technique, double-stops, positions other than first, etc. I don't want to be painted into another corner.

Is staccato really used in anything besides classical?

Edited: October 8, 2018, 11:34 PM · I have the first three O'Connor books. I bought them because I was curious.

As Mary Ellen points out, some time ago Mark O'Connor went on a binge. He could have just said, "my approach is complementary to Suzuki, emphasizing different things like improvisation, etc." Just about anyone except the most hard-boiled snobs would have warmly embraced that message. But Mark went way beyond that -- he crossed a line. Mark's brand was damaged, but his books and pedagogical approach are still valid in my opinion, and I see that he's got five books now, so I'll be updating my collection. Mark is absolutely correct that improvisation is sorely neglected in most common string pedagogy.

A few caveats:
(1) O'Connor books are expensive in comparison to Suzuki Books. His books are $30-35. Suzuki books are $10-15. (each type was priced with CD, from Shar)
(2) As soon as you buy them you'll have to take them to a copy shop and have the bindings cut off and replaced with spirals because they don't lie flat on your stand. Maybe he's fixed that by now.

Learning staccato isn't entirely about learning staccato. It's about learning to control your bow while producing an appealing sound. Likewise improv isn't just about being able to improvise -- it's also about ear training, concentration, and much more.

October 9, 2018, 3:07 AM · I appreciate George's example, but attributing his son's success to the method used is probably a bit false.

I would guess that the competence of the student combined with the competence of the teacher could have produced similar results with almost any method.

Edited: October 9, 2018, 5:45 AM · Erik, what I was pointing out was that learning violin using the O'Connor method was not detrimental to playing in an orchestra (which was one of David's explicit concerns).

Having observed many young violinists over the years, I can say that the vast majority coming out of the Suzuki program are unable to improvise, follow chord progressions, or play easily without written music (memorized or not).

I also think that the music in the O'Connor books is much more appealing to practicing than the Suzuki tunes to most American kids. One reason is that it is "cool" to play fiddle tunes for your friends.

Finally, I agree that development of technique is largely dependent on the teacher, but it is also dependent on how much a student wants to practice. Giving students music that they enjoy and want to learn can improve and increase practice time.

October 9, 2018, 9:45 AM · "O'Connor books are expensive in comparison to Suzuki Books. His books are $30-35. "

Big surprise there. All For Strings are $5.

October 9, 2018, 9:49 AM · Just ordered Volume 1 of O'Connor from Shar. Price on Amazon was $47.

I'll just see what it is.

Edited: October 9, 2018, 9:52 AM · "Having observed many young violinists over the years, I can say that the vast majority coming out of the Suzuki program are unable to improvise, follow chord progressions, or play easily without written music (improvised or not)."

Your first two points are true of the vast majority of young violinists coming out of *any* program or simply years of lessons. Your third point is debatable. It's been my experience that Suzuki trained violinists are better at playing without written music than traditionally trained.

Blanket statements about what music American violin students find appealing are unsupportable. I haven't found any notable interest among my own students in playing fiddle tunes, which doesn't surprise me because most of my students do not live in a world where fiddle tunes are frequently heard or played. If I taught in rural Appalachia instead of urban Texas, I'm sure my experience would be different.

There really is no way to say that *this* program or method is better than *that* program or method. It is 100% about the skill of the teacher.

October 9, 2018, 10:01 AM · Overpriced, in my opinion. Even if it was a big classical name the price would be high in my opnion, at least. Mr. Fischer's books are pricey but they are big volumes, not being "methods" per se.) Do not mean to offend, and I hope you find what you are looking for-the teacher will always be more important than the method.

Anyone uses the Auer books for teaching? I haven't seen them being mentioned in a while (where I grew up many people that did not use Suzuki books used Maia Bang.)

October 9, 2018, 10:36 AM · Ugh. I had started a reply and it disappeared when I clicked on look at earlier comments.

I teach both MOC (American Violin Method) and Suzuki Method simultaneously. They complement each other very well used together. They include a lot of the same principles. It does not take much more time to do both methods than to do one. While a student is polishing a piece in one book, they can start a piece in the other book. The skills hit at different places in each series and work to really reinforce the skills. That is even though I tell my students to play their last 4 pieces daily and to review everything else regularly.

I have only taught MOC for a few years while I have taught Suzuki for over 2 decades. My most advanced student in MOC is at the beginning of book 4. I am very interested to see how it affects my students' playing as they advance into the more complicated Classical violin repertoire. I believe that having done the MOC as well as the Suzuki will turn out to be very beneficial from a technique standpoint.

MOC is better at introducing new finger positions (low 2, low 1, high 3.) I like the way MOC introduces positions though he does 2nd position and then 3rd position while I have always done the opposite. My students still get introduced to 3rd position first through the Suzuki repertoire. MOC introduces double stops earlier and has more of them. There are also some different rhythms in the MOC books because of the different styles of music. I find the MOC books more conducive to incorporating theory into the lessons and of course, the series emphasizes creativity and improvisation. (When I took my training on books 1 and 2, I had to write a paper on creativity to get my graduate credit.)

It is fun to look at the Boil 'em Cabbage Variation 1 versus the Variation 14 in Book 3. There aren't any Cabbages in book 4 and 5.

I expect that doing both series will make my students flexible, well-rounded players. I also supplement with other materials, particularly 20th and 21st century Classical.

I have not had objections to the price of the books. I like the history of the pieces which is included. There is a lot of music in the MOC books. A lot more practice suggestions are included than are included in Suzuki.

Suzuki is a proven method. A trained teacher will teach you how to practice and the skills in each piece. There is a reason each piece is there and is in the order it is. Students get introduced to some of the great composers. There are a lot of good teachers who know how to teach Suzuki method. It has a lot of Classical repertoire. For some people a downside of the Suzuki Violin Method is that starting mid book 4, it is very heavy on Baroque music and doesn't include much from other time periods and none from 20th century.

I won't say much more about Suzuki method as the information on it is readily available and this is already a long post.

October 9, 2018, 10:49 AM · Regarding respective prices for Suzuki vs O'Connor, Suzuki 1 has 48 pages, O'Connor 1 has 76 pages. I haven't counted the number of pieces in each. And it's possible there might be more discussion in the O'Connor books, but....
October 9, 2018, 11:22 AM · "If I taught in rural Appalachia instead of urban Texas, I'm sure my experience would be different."

Houston public schools started an after school fiddle program, and I would guess most major cities in the South have jams for Old Time, Bluegrass, Irish, etc. Scottish is big in the northeast. There is a lot of interest in traditional/folk music right now. A few years ago, I started incorporating fiddle into most of my lessons because the kids/parents want it.

I think O'Connor is more similar to Suzuki, as far as the technical skills, than it is to All For Strings, which is my preferred method of teaching beginners.

October 9, 2018, 11:46 AM · One last thing--the O'Connor books aren't the only fiddle rep books out there. My younger one goes to camp at Old Town School of Folk Music and they have their own books, freely available for download, as well as a fiddle tune archive, again free. The former is designed for kids; the latter for anybody. Fiddle books are here: Tune archive here:
October 9, 2018, 1:01 PM · The O'Connor books are NOT fiddle rep books. They include many other styles besides fiddle. Jazz, Blues, Bluegrass, Polkas, Latin, Swing. etc. They are called the American Violin Method because they use music that originated in North America.
October 9, 2018, 8:02 PM · This is like asking what’s more nutritious: McDonald’s or Burger King?
October 9, 2018, 8:09 PM · Nate, what would your objections to them be (and out of curiosity, what would you consider at that stage...although I do not mean to derail the topic).
Edited: October 10, 2018, 12:13 AM · I’ll clarify and say I think for most students starting out, who are not on a professional track yet, Suzuki is actually the preferable system. I also prefer McDonald’s over Burger King fyi. It’s all about how it’s taught and it can be a fun method for beginners. If you want to play on a professional level obviously you would also want to supplement the pieces in Suzuki with scales, etudes and other material from early in your development and learn how to read music which is often unfortunately not taught from the very beginning by some Suzuki method teachers. Someone mentioned the Leopold Auer graded course above. I think those books are excellent for building technique for beginners.
October 9, 2018, 11:12 PM · I use a combination of about 5 different books. My "primary" book series is almost always Suzuki, but the other books I use are "String builder", "building technic with beautiful music", and "beautiful music for two string instruments" (all by applebaum). Then of course I also add "I can read music."

In addition to the above books, scales are introduced at the logical times. G major at the 3/4 mark of Suzuki book 1, and then C major as we get into the duet book (just because I find that a student needs to know C major as the "blank" for all of the other keys to make sense). And then written etudes are added in somewhere around the book 3 mark, assuming that the student practices enough to be able to do both a piece AND a study without diluting their efforts too much.

Here's what I've noticed, having used about 5 different books: the students who are the most talented and hardest working rarely need supplemental material. They manage to "juice" Suzuki thoroughly and learn intonation, rhythm, note reading, technique, etc.... all just from the Suzuki series.

It's the slower students that need more supplemental stuff (partially because we need to buy time for them). Of course, it's always my intention for every student to "juice" the Suzuki songs for all they're worth, but it seems certain students simply can't do that in the time between starting the song and the point at which they get tired of that song.

I guess my point here is that most students need supplemental material to be successful. Some need more than others, but everyone hits a point where a single one-size-fits-all book series just isn't going to cut it anymore. So when we discuss "which is better" between 2 methods, I can't consider it a really valid question because we're going to end up needing to purchase other books anyways, and some of the things we end up doing can't be found in any book. Often I have to make up simple etudes on the spot that specifically match the situation that the student is running into. You can't fit all the relevant material into just one book.

October 10, 2018, 10:42 AM · To emphasize what was previously said, it's the teacher that matters, not the books that are or aren't used. That's especially true for an adult.

Every adult is different. Some adults have an excellent memory for what's taught to them in lessons; others need written references, videos, etc. to help them recall what they are supposed to be doing. Some adults are willing to work on a short snippet of material in a meticulous fashion over and over again; others want to work on that skill over a greater variety of material. Some adults really want to play things that sound like a tune from the very beginning; others are willing to work on tedious exercises if that is the most efficient way to learn. And so forth. Plus, adults have different goals. And different styles of playing will emphasize different skills.

A good teacher will be able to adapt to these needs and preferences. That may well involve using an extensive mix of materials, rather than proceeding in an orderly fashion through one method book or another.

Edited: October 11, 2018, 5:53 PM · A new teacher I’ve talked to has suggested doing both Suzuki and O’Connor. I’d At least like to finish book 1 of Suzuki before jumping ship. I was also grousing that me current teacher was pushing me to knock out a song per week. I’m on Minuet 1right now and it 95% memorized over this last week, but I’m wasted from the effort, and can barely play the thing.

The new teacher felt that was a somewhat unrealistic expectation.

October 11, 2018, 6:02 PM · I love the Auer books, but they would most likely be boring for young kids. Using it along with another method would be best.
October 11, 2018, 6:38 PM · And today my current teacher told me that nobody gets this song in less than a month. I wish you would’ve told me that before.
October 11, 2018, 8:02 PM · Yeah, I've learned over time that adult beginners REALLY need to have their expectations clearly set before each song. A lot of people have the misconception that they'll get through each of the Minuets in the same amount of time that they got through Lightly Row, and then they feel like failures when they don't.

I used to have a lot of people quit when they reached the Minuets for this very reason.

It's also helpful if the teacher doesn't assign the WHOLE Minuet #1 at once, but rather splits it into 3 equal segments. It should be treated as 3 separate songs, each to be accomplished in a week or so.

This is mainly a psychological trick so the student doesn't get overwhelmed at the new level of challenge that Minuet provides. It's much less discouraging to think of it as 3 songs than it is to think of it as one song that is going to take a month or longer.

Edited: October 11, 2018, 11:33 PM · I memorized a good bit of it, but missed some details. But I was getting nauseated from extremely low brain glucose from all the mental exertion. She just didn't verbally change her "expectations of me". Yeah, I needed specifics. When I first heard the minuet, I knew definitely it was not going to be an easy thing, but I tried anyway, not wanting to disappoint my teacher. I'm a good boy. Someone pat me on the head.
October 12, 2018, 3:25 AM · Something to keep in mind: as a teacher, I would rather a student take a couple of extra weeks to comfoetably finish a piece than to burn themselves out trying to learn it too quickly.

Learning the violin is an endurance race, not a sprint. Always remember that.

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