Etudes vs. Review

January 6, 2019, 10:42 AM · I was wondering what people's thoughts are on when students (particularly Suzuki trained) should switch from doing lots of review pieces to doing more etudes. My oldest started etudes really late and only because I supplemented with Schradieck and Kreutzer when he was learning Mozart and Mendelssohn and had never done etudes with his Suzuki teacher. (We had to wait to switch him to an advanced level teacher because his older sister was terminally ill.)

I'm now in a similar situation with my younger one (age 9, late book 6). She's never done etudes beyond a reading book. I bought her Wohlfahrt but her teacher would still rather see her doing 5 review pieces each day. I understand the value of review in beginners, but at this stage, don't you think etudes become more important? She's not all that motivated, so I usually can only get 45 minutes of practice out of her a day, so we need to be judicious about how those minutes are used.

Replies (20)

January 6, 2019, 11:41 AM · At Suzuki book 6 level, I think review pieces are no longer worth it. Either do more etudes or do more repertoire. My music teachers are the type that assign few to no etudes and tend to do more exercises and scales. We also tend to spend more time on repertoire. I think etudes are not compulsory, but are highly beneficial.
Edited: January 6, 2019, 12:50 PM · Just my opinion based on observation, but if you have a 9 year old in Suzuki Book 6 it may be time to consider moving him to a different teacher with a different pedagogical approach.

This is what happened in the small city where I lived 25 years ago. Those Suzuki students who made good progress were sent off to the "big city," in this case LA, 150 miles away, where they continued with different more "professional" teachers (I mean no offense - just musicians with broader professional education and performance experience). A number of these students went on to get degrees in violin performance and music education. One of the students from this Suzuki school was violin virtuoso Anne Akiko Meyers.

P.S. I'm sure this will get your son more "etudes," "studies" or "exercises" or whatever you want to call them.

January 6, 2019, 1:01 PM · Playing five review pieces a day at Suzuki 6 would be pretty dull for a lot of people. If you feel like your daughter is just going through the motions to appease you, and doesn't seem very motivated, maybe it's Andrew is right and it's time for a new teacher? Etudes are a different type of boring though- unfamiliar enough that you have to concentrate, but not that fun to play. I do think they are very important.

Talk about your child's lack of motivation with her teacher. That's a really important thing for a teacher to know.

Edited: January 7, 2019, 12:59 AM · I would be very concerned if I had a child of 9 years and book 6 doing boring repetitive review instead of etudes and such.

My girl of 5 years in doing Suzuki but not the standarrd Suzuki as we dont do review that much. My view of review (meaning playing several past pieces every day, some teachers require even the whole book every day, which is terrible) is that it is not really for the more talented spectrum (prodigies set aside) who dont practise for hours but still need new techniques faster to keep them busy. Because review takes such a long time if you dont just play through (no point in that). And if you have new techniques (new pieces) fast, do scales and spesific drills plus orchestra, there really is no time to waste in review, review is good if the capasity of the child to learn new things is not high but otherwise there are better uses of time in my opinion.

January 6, 2019, 1:23 PM · Thank you to everyone for the advice. I suppose I have a warped sense of motivation since my older child happily practiced 2 or 3 hours a day from the time he was very little and has always been very intense with his music study. My younger one (the 9yo) does really enjoy playing -- she's not a huge fan of practicing, but loves orchestra, playing with her brother, etc. She's just less motivated comparatively, but probably within the range of normal for a 9yo.

I've considered having her audition for her brother's teacher (who typically takes kids 10+) but his teacher is for very serious students, and my little one just isn't as comparably serious. She wants to be a scientist and would rather draw than practice.

I think I will try to work with her current teacher on pushing etudes more than review (I already mentioned it last lesson) and see how things go the rest of this year and reassess when she gets to be 10.

January 6, 2019, 2:07 PM · Book 6 is a great point to switch off Suzuki, and that's especially true when it doesn't sound like the kid is getting great teaching. Even the most purist Official Suzuki Stuff only teacher (which no Suzuki teacher trainer would encourage, I think) would at least have done the Position Etudes and Quint Etudes with the kid.

By book 6, a student should have finished Wolfhart, perhaps done Kayser, and likely gotten through a significant chunk of Mazas. In many cases the student would have done Schradieck and Sevcik exercises as well, as well as done a scale book. Some students may have started Galamian or Flesch scales by that point also.

The Suzuki review is near-pointless at the book 6 level. None of those pieces other than the Bach Double will likely be played again in the future. The review done in group lessons should be more than enough to preserve that repertoire. (I'm pretty certain I can still play the Suzuki repertoire from memory, if need be, and it's been 35+ years since I was in a Suzuki program.)

I would suggest finding a great teacher who doesn't demand that kids practice a ton. Because your daughter isn't practicing as much, it's actually more important that this time be used as effectively as possible.

Edited: January 6, 2019, 2:51 PM · The point of review is to improve tone, clarity, expression etc on familiar ground, without the "distraction" of learning a new work or exercise.

Studies? If we have hours of free time, they avoid "going stale" on repertoire, and build up stamina. (And they help parents feel they are getting value for money!) Otherwise, fragments of repertoire or fragments of studies can be treated patiently as "basics", like restoring a detail on a painting.

Edited: January 6, 2019, 6:15 PM · Elaboration on Adrian Heath's remarks on the point of review:
You also use the old pieces to learn new techniques, like when learning spiccato you pick those pieces that have sections suited for spiccato and when learning other positions than 1st position you pick pieces that have sections or passages which are fit for another position like 3rd position. Or you pick one of the simpler pieces and transpose it to another key, like "Long, Long Ago" can be played in other positions starting on 1st finger. And so can "Perpetuel Motion".

The younger the pupil is the more (s)he probably likes to play the old pieces while older pupils tend to want new stuff, so you need to find a balance that appeals to the pupil.

Note that the Suzuki melodies have "teaching points" which the Suzuki teacher knows as those points are part of the Suzuki teacher training. The "teaching points" are technical drills or exercises that the pupil is supposed to practice in order to learn the skills required for the next piece.

But I think that most Suzuki teachers do include supplementary material. How much is probably very different for different situations.

By the way: Playing the whole book every day seems to me like overdoing it, but there could be reasons that we don't know.

Edited: January 6, 2019, 8:37 PM · I think Andy Victor nailed it.

The real value of review for a child is twofold. First, if you go to a Suzuki summer camp, you can engage in the play-ins, the group classes, and such because you've grooved the whole repertoire. Second, review shows you how far you've come. If you're blasting away at La Folia and Handel Sonatas, then when you go back and play Seitz and Vivaldi, you can say, "Wow this is easier AND better." There's value in that. But not five pieces. And certainly not every day.

At Book 6 you should be finishing Wohlfahrt and moving on to Kayser and 3-octave scales, I would think.

January 7, 2019, 8:06 AM · Thank you all. She does do 3 octave scales (all major and minor keys plus arpeggios) so she isn't completely bereft of technical practice! We will work through the Wohlfahrt together and reduce the review to primarily what she needs for summer camp.
January 7, 2019, 10:53 AM · A certain amount of review is essential and enjoyable. When I was working on grade 7/8 guitar, I loved going back and reviewing grade 3 Brouwer. But sometimes you can be glad to see the back of a piece, and to be forced to review everything would kill my interest in the whole process. If Suzuki insists on reviewing everything, is it because perhaps it was rushed too much first time round? I've seen one or two Suzuki players on Youtube who reminded me of Honda robots, but I don't want to over-generalise an entire method from one or two examples.
January 7, 2019, 10:57 AM · One of my Suzuki trainers challenged us, a class of teachers, many conservatory-trained players, that we could name any advanced level technique and he could come up with a Suzuki repertoire-based etude for it. I don't remember the exact examples but it was pretty impressive. You need to know the original material well enough to transform it though, and if your teacher doesn't give you that kind of stuff, maybe you would want the separate printed material.

This trainer said that in general, he was covering everything through scales and repertoire (and supplementary repertoire) and did not find the position etudes and quint etudes to be necessary. He would do "traditional" etudes with specific students for specific reasons but also spoke of students asking to go back to doing review instead of etudes, perhaps finding that they were a "different type of boring" (Julie's description). Of course, teachers and students have different styles and preferences. If your goals are diverging, it's worth a separate conversation, after which you evaluate how to proceed.

Also, review is not supposed to be boring/repetitive/mindless but done with intention for improving certain aspects of your playing. You can "play through" an etude or scale without actually working on it and that's about as useful (not) as "playing through" Suzuki.

January 7, 2019, 12:08 PM · Regarding "If Suzuki insists on reviewing everything, is it because perhaps it was rushed too much first time round?":

Here is what I remember hearing from training (American trainers, many who had studied in Japan): Shinichi Suzuki's young beginners were playing book 1 in 4 months, without using 4th finger (well, I guess except for the B's in Minuet 1 & 3) and without dynamics. I assume this means a minimum level of pitch and bowing accuracy.

Clearly, they weren't *finished* and must have "reviewed book 1" for musicality and technique improvement while proceeding with book 2. They were what, 2 and 3 years old, and playing Vivaldi at 6? So they built up ability to learn, memory capacity, and active musical vocabulary (critical period of language learning, etc.) and they probably reached Mozart concertos while still having half a childhood remaining to get into standard etudes and repertoire.

Book 1 in 4 months?!?! Yeah...the original Japanese implementation is not going to work with my typical 4 or 5 year old beginner, in my studio where practicing 45 min/day makes you well above average, but it doesn't need to - I adapt to what's in front of me, and it does mean review, though not in a "play through 5 pieces" sort of way.

January 7, 2019, 12:16 PM · Yes I've seen at summer camps where Suzuki pieces from Book 1 were morphed into challenging etudes ... sautille Perpetual Motion transposed into C Major, etc. Just not sure how that's really better than Kreutzer No. 2. After a while I think one would get to the point where one really does not want to hear Perpetual Motion yet one more time. By the same token I don't know any teacher who does all of the K2 bowings before moving on to Sevcik.
Edited: January 7, 2019, 1:00 PM · Original Suzuki students, didnt they stay at a special kindergarden type of place, where they studied all day, so it cannot be compared to normal toddlers coming for one 15 lesson a week.

I still argue that review is boring. When the child has learned the piece, and I mean learned it properly, not just notes and bowing, why would a child with an intelligent and progressive mind want to play that same thing over and over again? Mine doesnt. As soon as she has polished a piece, its good bye and only a concert can motivate her to go back. And Im just the same so I cannot blame her. I find it a bit silly to want children to play the same thing over and over again once its learned. Theres more joy in learning something than just knowing something.

Some argue that there are always new things to learn in the old pieces and that is true, but why not learn them with a new piece? New pieces also makes children better note readers. Review is easier with those with excellent aural memory, which my girl does clearly not have alas review is just a painfull drag which we avoid.

So draditional suites some for sure, but its not for everyone. Luckily good teachers bend the system and dont expect the same for everyone.

Edited: January 7, 2019, 1:11 PM · Thanks Mengwei--your discussion goes a long way towards helping me understand the Suzuki method.
January 7, 2019, 1:36 PM · "I find it a bit silly to want children to play the same thing over and over again once its learned."

Most of the parents of young girls that I know have watched Frozen roughly a million times. I think enjoying repetition and routine is a fairly common trait in young children.

January 7, 2019, 2:51 PM · I just want to make clear that I am a huge supporter of review in the early books and at younger ages. My kids were religious with review through book 4 and still continued it thereafter. And we did everything - Perpetual Motion in every single key, played the major pieces in minor, did most of the early songs in various positions, etc. This was extremely valuable, and enjoyable for my kids up to age 8 or so.

But not so much anymore. She is so sick of books 1-4 that she doesn't even want to play them at all. And the pieces in books 5-6 tend to be longer on the whole, so reviewing those is pretty much an exercise in trying to remember them -- little value in that. Her brother was much the same. We'll stick to doing review for institute and otherwise do more etudes. She also does a bunch of supplementary pieces from the Barbara Barber series of books.

Edited: January 13, 2019, 8:07 PM · Just to address it for the record, to prevent continued misperception, I think there were (are?) Suzuki-inspired day schools, but that was not a required format for the "original" beginners of Suzuki violin (although they were likely listening to their cassette tapes "all day" at home). From what I've heard (I was not there), master class style instruction was also common, i.e., Suzuki working with one student in front of an audience, who would be learning by observing.

What about scales, are they not boring? And after you "learn a scale", there is another one, another arpeggio, another bowing, rhythm, intervals, chords, do you never go back to previous iterations? Of course not! "Knowing" is different from "executing accurately and consistently" (for whatever level of accuracy and consistency is desired in the context of your playing and your life) so repeating what you know makes you better/faster at those patterns. Whether this development is done through review or scales or etudes - that's a decision to be made in the teaching relationship (or to change the relationship, if a teacher with a different style is a better fit for the student's goals and needs).

January 7, 2019, 10:40 PM · +1 to Irene. For us it was "Balto"


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