When to switch to traditional teaching from Suzuki and apply for conservatory?

March 15, 2019, 5:42 AM · So as I am not a violinist I would like to hear different views on this question that we now face with my daughter.

So she just started book 4 and it doesnt seem to be difficult for her, has played for 3 years and just turned 6. Our very good teacher asked me last lesson do I have any plans on trying to move her to a conservatory. She didnt say it clearly but I understood that conservatory would be good for her, but when to switch that is the question. Now or wait for a year of two (I understood that she should move at the latest when she turns 8)

The Suzuki teacher has qualifications up to book 10 and is conservatory taught. And my daughter has now access to a non-suzuki-orchestra in which all the others are older that she is, mostly considerably older, but she loves the orchestra and though the players are not so good technically, it has a good ambience and it is fun.

She played both book 2 and book 3 in a year but has (someone might remember) problems in memorizing but is a good music reader. Technically she is quite good, has vibrato and can do positions ( at least position 3 plus flute sounds) and has almost a perfect pitch with violin. She doesnt paly i group classes of Suzuki any more as there really is no point in them for her as she is so different from the others (playes better, but is bad at memorizing all the pieces at the same time)

However she is not advanced psychologically over her age, has a short attentio span, doesnt like practising so much and generally goofs around just like most of the kids her age. So she is not a prodigy, just a talented normal kid.

We live in a medium sized city and the conservatory in question is not the best in the country, just that most of the talented violinists here do study there. We have been in their concerts and there is an air of conpetition there that is absent from the music school she is now in. And I ve gathered that they have some leading problems there, so I have no idea how stressed the teachers there are at the moment.

So its a leap to the unknown, she is probably now so advanced in comparison that they would take her, but I have no idea, what kind of teacher she would get, because the teachers there have probably a pecking order in which they choose the students.

Suzuki is also nice as there are records and its easy to find other perfonmances in youtube. I also like to be involved and do not especially like the traditional way of starting kids with violin. But she is not a beginner any more, so would she benefit from a traditional teaching system done surrounded with kids that are as talented as she is and even better.

So, what would you do, continue with suzuki with a very nice teacher that my kid likes or switch to the conservatory now or 1 or 2 years later? If she continues with Suzuki and continues to progress in the same pace, then she might reach book 6 at the age of 7. The thing is who can say, but that is the fastest progress scenario for her.

In clnservatory whe would get 2 lessons of 30 mins next term and then afterwards one 45 monute lesson. In suzuki we would clntinue with 1 lesson of 30 minutes untill after one year.

Replies (12)

Edited: March 15, 2019, 7:29 AM · My sense upon reading your post is that things are going pretty well as they are. The student is making good progress and has only one "issue" (memorization) which is a little surprising for a young child but probably of no lasting concern.

When you say "move to a conservatory" does that mean some kind of boarding school? Uprooting your family and moving to Manhattan? If so then there are much bigger issues than just how well she's playing violin.

But, inasmuch as your current teacher asked you about conservatory, I guess there is no harm making inquiries there, getting a sample lesson, etc. But again it sounds like your situation is already about as ideal as it could be. You could transition to the conservatory any time.

Edited: March 15, 2019, 7:33 AM · I always had memory issues, but I would have survived a conservatoire. People weren't expected to memorise unless they could. Reading music was the norm.
Suzuki's insistence on memory may be good practice and a good idea, but I wonder if it is misleading you into thinking memory is the only way?
March 15, 2019, 8:29 AM · It would worry me that her teacher is talking about her transitioning to another teacher. Do you know if that is because the teacher is starting to feel that your daughter is moving beyond the level she teaches best?

It would help those of us who are in the US to explain what "conservatory" means where you live, so we can understand what your daughter might be gaining if you were to move her to the local conservatory. For US residents, it means college-level preparation for professional playing. It sounds like that is not what this local conservatory is, though.

Edited: March 15, 2019, 8:57 AM · Thanks you for the replies :)

The conservatory in question is in the same city, it is just a more advanced music school, which offers lower university level tuition and also teaches children in addition to those who are aiming for professional musicians. So no boarding. They do not have a set of number of places for children but take all those deemed talented enough. Not all of the children obviously become professional musicians, probably most of them do not but most of the talented children that do become professionals do transfer to the conservatory at some point. So the same teachers that teach the aspiring professionals teach the younger children too. At the moment nearly all talented child/teen musicians do study there, in competitions about 7-8 from 9 young musicians study in the conservatory.

There is only 1 musical higher university in my country (6 million population) and that is in another city. In adition to that there are I think these 5 conservatories, which offer the lower university level tuition and they are in the bigger cities.

Jocelyn, I really have to say I dont know, but I dont think so. She is a competent player and qualified very far, but I am not a violinist. Im thinking more that she would think that my girl would benefit from being around other talented children, maybe more motivating? Or that she might benefit in the long run frim a different teaching method that Suzuki. Maybe starting etudes and such. But As we are just starting book 4 it is not yet necessary I think.

March 15, 2019, 8:51 AM · Changing teachers is certainly something to consider - but I think age 6 is probably too young. Also, I think she should be further along than book 4 when the move is made, and comfortable as a sight reader. Also, I think it should be kept as fun for her as long as possible - the "conservatory" experience may kill the fun (it did for me when I was in the "kid program at the Manhattan School of Music). However, a different learning approach than Suzuki might be good for her following book 4.

The town I lived in until 24 years ago had a wonderful Suzuki school. Many of the teenagers who joined our adult community orchestra had been shunted out of that Suzuki by their teachers (who by that stage was usually the school leader) by their early teens - many of them making the 320 mile weekly round trip to Los Angeles for "professional" teachers.

I think this practice was started a few years earlier when one outstanding young student from that school started that weekly 320 mile journey when she was about 8. She soloed with our community orchestra when she was 6 and 7. She soloed with the LA Philharmonic, playing the Mendelssohn Concerto when she was 12 and then right after that with our community orchestra as a gift to our town and her first teacher (I was the orchestra's concert master then - and it was thrilling). Then on to Julliard where she studied with Dorothy Delay. I also saw her on the Tonight show a couple of times about then. We now know her as world-famous violin virtuoso Anne Akiko Meyers.

March 15, 2019, 9:24 AM · I would set a time with the teacher to talk about transitioning your daughter--when would be the ideal time? What might your daughter miss if you don't transition her to the conservatory soon? What should she have accomplished beforehand? How can she (the current teacher) prepare your daughter for the transition?

Perhaps another V.com member with more Suzuki experience can weigh in, but I've heard that book 4 is the point at which things get tough and children are likely to quit, so if your daughter really likes her current teacher, and if the gossip I've heard about book 4 is true, I'd be inclined not to transition for a while.

March 15, 2019, 9:38 AM · Age, maturity, engagement, enjoyment, progress, learning to play properly -- these are all more important factors in your decision than what "book" she's in. A lot of teachers continue through Book 6 or 7 because it's convenient and frankly there's a lot of really good and wholesome (instructional) music in there. But after Book 4 there probably needs to be some supplementing with other material including other rep as well as scales and studies. So a good thing to watch out for is whether the present teacher is doing that. But again, it sounds to me like things are going pretty darned well already. Maybe memorization will start to click when public school starts and her attention span improves. Also remember to be listening to the pieces a LOT. Encourage the fun side as long as you can -- on this point I agree with Andy Victor -- because if you are in this for the long haul, there will be some dark times too.
March 15, 2019, 10:47 AM · Thank you very much. Victor nailed it with the question about not killing the fun.
She is too young and currently things are going very well. She starts pre-school next autumn (and the real school a year after that at the age of 7) so I’ll have to think about this after a year. It probably depends on where her playing is at then. If she is in book 5 or above by then, then the switch may be necessary but not yet.
March 15, 2019, 12:10 PM · It sounds like what you call "conservatory" is probably what people in the US would call a "pre-conservatory" program; US conservatories (which are normally postsecondary level) would probably call this their "pre-college program".

The question of method should probably be considered independent of the teacher. For instance, it sounds like your daughter is already drifting pretty far from the Suzuki Method, in that she is neither memorizing nor participating in the group classes. Many teachers choose to use the Suzuki repertoire in these early years without using the Suzuki Method.

Book 4 typically represents the transition from the beginner to the intermediate phase. It's where vibrato and 3rd position are typically taught (and now that the Bohm Perpetual Motion has been added to book 4 in the revised edition, also spiccato).

This is the point where a student should really begin to read music with reasonable fluency. (In Japan, when Suzuki was teaching, book 4 was typical of his 6-year-old students, and 6-year-olds are typically learning to read words, so when Suzuki recommended that book 4 was a good point to start reading, he was thinking of it in that age context.)

This is also the point where many teachers introduce a formal scale book, as well as etudes (usually in the form of Wohlfahrt) and possibly exercises (Schradieck and Sevcik).

This is true whether the student is learning the Suzuki Method or via conventional means.

So the real question that you should be asking yourself is: When is the right time to transition to another teacher? What are the limits of this teacher's abilities?

There's probably a secondary question about whether this pre-conservatory program has additional supports for learning -- like theory classes, for instance. If so, perhaps you could consider how you could provide similar supports without needing to change teachers.

March 15, 2019, 1:54 PM · For me the critical point was when you said that she is not self motivated and does not like to practise. I think it might be a disaster to move her into a competitive environment until it is clear that learning the violin is something she really wants to do, rather than just something she is good at. I was outstanding at debating and my parents wondered if I should pursue law. Thank goodness that did not happen as it would have been a disaster.

Since she is happy now and she is obviously making excellent progress despite the resistance to practice, I really would not make any major move. If you want to up the game a bit perhaps you could get her into a more competitive social playing structure - maybe there is a string orchestra around or some way that she could start playing in small groups.

Good luck - you sound like a wonderful and careful mother :)

March 15, 2019, 4:16 PM · I would wait until your daughter is motivated and wants to make the change herself. Having gone through Suzuki with two kids, one very motivated and the other not, it is usually pretty clear by age 8 what direction they want to go. If the motivation isn't there right now (which doesn't mean it will never be), pushing the child into a competitive program will only lead to burnout.

I would also say that it can be really hard to teach unusually precocious kids who don't follow the usual paradigms. Your teacher may be struggling with this. You may want to have a conversation about it. My oldest was atypical from the start -- he could play almost all the pieces by ear up to book 4 just a few months after starting -- and his teacher at times struggled with trying to hold him back to cement basics versus letting him just jump ahead. We usually ended up having one easy piece to work on for basics and another hard one for fun.

Also, remember that this decision won't make or break the rest of her life. My son ended up in an advanced program (and a year later a pre-college program) way later than he should have (age 12) due mostly to family circumstances (his oldest sister being sick and passing away). Despite not having the training he should have had between ages 9-12, he's doing great. And in some ways he is doing better than those who started the advanced programs earlier and who did millions of competitions as children -- he has developed much more of an independent musical voice than most of the others.

Your daughter will be fine and do great! Just follow her lead.

Edited: March 16, 2019, 9:14 AM · Thanks for further replies.

She can have access to music theory also without the conservatory, though probably at the age of 8 I think. But I have been teaching her some basic theory at home, so that is not a problem either way.

About the motivation. Violin is her own idea, I allways thought she would start piano but she just wanted violin at the age of 2. She is motivated in playing but not so much in practising. It is me who makes her start practising and we practise together. But we manage to practise every day quite well and after practising she plays her own songs on the violin for about 5-10 minutes and would probably do that more often if she had the access to the violin all the time. She is clumsy (quite normal for her age) so I just cannot give her the violin to play whenever she wants to. She loves the orchestra and is very mltivated there and likes playing for others. She is quite motivated to learn new things and pieces and techniques but does not like endless polishing. She sort of looses her interest when she knows she can do the practise in hand and she should do repetitions for memorizing and for consistency. She is not consistent in her playing, it varies a lot.

She was listening to me talking to her teacher and when I laterr told her that we are thinking about getting her to the more advanced music school, she was happy and excited and thought it a good idea. She likes the teacher, its not that, but the thought of going further and playing with other kids her level seems nice to her.

But these motivational ideas with children this age are only so much to go by with. She clearly at this age takes my cue about how to think about different things. And I usually am open minded to new things, so that is what she has learned too.
She has not said that she will be a violinist when she has grown up, but a vet who plays the violin :)

But as has been said, all is going well at the moment :) I just wanted to make an educated decision when I dont feel qualified to do as violin is not my instrument :)

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