Methodologies for learning Violin

Edited: May 2, 2019, 7:52 AM · What methodologies are there for learning violin besides Suzuki and O'Connor. And I admit I'm likely misusing the word methodology here. I keep hearing that the Suzuki books contain no method.

Anyway, finally found a teacher I like, but I like to have a game plan, know what's coming etc, when learning stuff. This is why I asked to be switched back to Suzuki after she had me on All For Strings for a while to teach me reading. I'm grateful to be a budding reader now, but just looking for some sort of roadmap.

I liked Suzuki because of the progressive nature of the pieces. Even though Minuet 2 in book 1 is giving me fits on string crossings, and feels like a major leap, I somehow trust the "road map" of Suzuki, just because. Very likely I have no idea whether I should or not.

I know there's "Strictly Strings", "All for Strings", "Essential Elements", and just wondering what else there is.

I guess I haven't been with my teacher long enough to totally trust her reflexes on song choice (I push back sometimes). I can be kinda ornery sometimes.

But I'd like to have some sort of road map to other ways of learning. Any feedback out there? I come from a poorly self-taught fiddling background. Goals? Blues, rock, cajun, and if I ever developed the chops, and my memory and reading skills were sufficient, some classical in some community orchestra MAYBE.

Replies (25)

Edited: May 2, 2019, 12:02 PM · The Suzuki program has very successfully launched thousands of fine violinists. Even using the Suzuki books supplemented with various teacher-selected etudes or "exercises" has been successful. I started using the Suzuki books for teaching in the late 1970s after about 12 years of using the same more conventional methods by which I had been taught through the 1940s.

I used the Suzuki books on students from age 5 to 60, bringing two of my many students to the Mozart Concertos and one beyond. I focused my teaching toward teaching the students to read and eventually sight-read music.

To my mind the Suzuki books are road map that starts from the first page of Book one and continues throughout the series with a clear rationale - at least to a knowledgeable teacher who supplements the material to the needs of each student.

There is a final level in the Suzuki material and most students (especially good ones who started young) will graduate to more conventional pedagogy with the kind of teachers who teach future "pros." Actually, those I have known to go this route have left Suzuki well before the final volume - with their teacher's encouragement and blessing.

Edited: May 2, 2019, 9:48 AM · As a returning beginner as of almost 6 months ago, my teacher started me on Essential Elements to build my reading skills (I got away with playing my ear in my old school orchestra). He uses the Suzuki books for repertoire and we negotiate my "outside" pieces - so am currently on Minuet 2 in Suzuki 1 and Marche (Bach) as my outside piece.

I've a listing of the full repertoire from the full Suzuki violin series and really like the progression of pieces - let me know if you are interested & can't find it

The Suzuki books are well laid out, which is why so many teachers use them. Essential Elements, at least to me, serve a different purpose. I was weary/bored with the book quickly, but after a 45 year hiatus it was important to revisit all of the foundations.

May 2, 2019, 9:39 AM · I am very fond of the Joachim Violin School (actually written for the most part by Andreas Moser, his assistant). it is old school but it is good stuff. check it out on IMSLP.
May 2, 2019, 9:52 AM · It's not the choice of music, it's how it's taught.

The Suzuki books present pieces in progressive order, but the Suzuki method teaches the music by rote. Kids starting on the method often can't even read music, so there is no supplemental material.

As an adult, you probably have different strengths and weaknesses and learn things at a different pace than a 4 year old. If you have a good teacher, I'd trust them to use music that a) they are familiar with and b) might work more towards addressing any weaknesses you have. There is no one size fits all solution, so there is no one Best Method for everyone.

Edited: May 2, 2019, 10:33 AM · both my previous teacher and current have said that I do not have to perfect or finish a Suzuki piece before moving on. I know some teachers want Suzuki pieces perfected before moving on. I don't like giving up, but I also feel that trying something for a while, then moving on to even more difficult material makes the previous difficult material easier to do, and also allows time for the neural pathways in the brain to assimilate and encode the piece that was left behind, instead of drilling drilling drilling on a piece. Minuet 2 is eating my lunch, but she gave me a method for working with it. I'll try that a while before moving on.

I do know from experience that I might hammer hammer hammer on something and not get it then, but months later it will fall out under my fingers easily. I need more time for things to integrate into my brain.

May 2, 2019, 10:42 AM · One of the things I learned from teaching "music" and string instrument playing is how differently some people's minds can work. The effective teacher is alert to this and fashions the lessons and progress accordingly and will also select specific musical compositions for added motivation, experience and technical development.

Looking back on my life I realize now my own cello teacher was doing this to (or for) me 70 years ago back in my mid-teens so that in the 28 months of lessons we were together I progressed from lesson no. 1 to beyond what years later became the terminus of the Suzuki cello course.

May 2, 2019, 11:52 AM · "Are the last pieces in each Suzuki book intended to show all of the techniques taught in that book?"

No, "traditional" Suzuki requires you to play the entire book from memory before moving on to the next book. You can't use the last piece as a proxy for the earlier material. In fact, going to a new Suzuki teacher with say book 4 on the stand is often a good opportunity for that teacher to take you back to book 3, 2, 1.. to illustrate some of the technical requirements using the earlier pieces.

"Not anything highlighted concerning tone"

I recall a teacher moving me back to "Allegretto" when I wanted to work on what I don't recall, but not Allegretto. I remarked to her that I thought our lesson had been going well until that point, and she threatened me with Twinkle, both lightheartedly, but still.. These earlier pieces were chosen specifically in this context to highlight bowing technique which affected tone.

May 2, 2019, 12:02 PM · For classic-oriented students I prefer the Doflein series- 5 books.
For those that want to do some fiddle style, I have started using Mark O'Conner's series. At some point supplement with the etudes, starting with Wohlfahrt-1.
May 2, 2019, 12:26 PM · Suzuki's method involves rote learning (and listening and memorization) at the beginning because most 3 and 4 year-old children can't read yet. It parallels language development, where one learns to speak their primary language before learning to read it. The issue with music literacy with Suzuki Method students arose when it was introduced to areas (like the US) where music reading was not part of the standard curriculum as it is in Japan, where to even be a pre-school teacher, one has to pass a piano proficiency assessment.

If you're an adult, the material in the Suzuki books is fine to play, there's lots of valuable technical skills to cover--but you certainly would not learn it the way a child in their single digit years would!

May 2, 2019, 3:17 PM · Jay - thanks for your reply. I had started wondering the same thing but hadn't asked my teacher yet. I've too many other questions for him as it is!
May 2, 2019, 7:21 PM · "Kids starting on the [Suzuki] method often can't even read music, so there is no supplemental material." It's not true. Kids learn to play by ear and end up playing a lot of additional tunes. My daughter started Suzuki cello at the age of 4 and by the time she was 6 or 7 she could play Christmas carols, tunes she heard on the radio, Happy Birthday, and even her big sister's (Suzuki) violin rep, all by ear. Learning to read music later was more of a challenge than I expected, but we overcame that by and by.
May 2, 2019, 8:02 PM · As a teacher I've worked with most beginner books over the years. There is nothing that great IMO. Books like Essential Elements spend a couple of pages on open strings then introduce three fingers in the next two pages - usually a huge leap for young kids. Then, about a further 6 pages still on pizzicato, expecting the student to be very patient and have faith playing some very uninspiring exercises. Like pretty much every beginner book you get the the version of Jingle Bells with the wrong rhythm, so that you have to tell kids they are playing it 'wrong', because it's not what's on the page (that's the end of trusting your musical instincts and playing how you have heard the melody). Eventually you get to the bow and then you take a step back playing single note exercises for the next few pages. At this stage the student may think, 'Is this really worthwhile and enjoyable?' and perhaps quit. Other books are pretty much the same. Can anybody point to a book that's different?
May 2, 2019, 8:50 PM · I used Samuel Applebaum’s String Builder to start when I was a kid. I’m neutral about recommending it (I just don’t know how it compares). But since you’re looking for options, I thought I’d mention it.
May 2, 2019, 10:23 PM · We have gone through Suzuki, Flesch, Sevcik, Schradieck, Wohlfahrt, Kayser, standard concertos, Kreisler pieces, etc with multiple teachers. At this point, I can confidently say, what matters is good teaching and that starts from setup and basic techniques.

At the beginning stage, in my non-expert opinion, the goal should be learning the teaching points well enough to be able to apply them to other pieces.

May 2, 2019, 11:25 PM · Suzuki is a method though. The OP asked for methodologies.
May 3, 2019, 8:33 PM · If someone can modify and make s grown up edition of Adventures in Violinland, that would be a great choice for grown ups. Christopher, have you tried it with your younger students?
May 4, 2019, 4:48 AM · I love String Builder, as mentioned by Jocelyn above.

I'm not sure why I don't hear about it more often: I think it's a very well organized book series, in terms of how concepts are introduced, and how note reading is included from day 1.

Recently I've been moving more and more new students to String Builder versus Suzuki, because it works better for students who don't necessarily have the time to dedicate to being successful in the Suzuki books. Regular, prolific, quality practice with extremely specific goals is necessary to be successful as you go through the Suzuki books, and many just don't have the discipline/time to make that work.

May 6, 2019, 2:07 PM · David,

What are your goals? Have you thought about them and if so, have you discussed them with your teacher?

There are loads of methods going way back in history, many forgotten and some persisting. That being said, the teacher cannot help you achieve your goals unless she knows what they are. Perhaps you would like to share your goals with the group. You would get advice on how to achieve them and it would help to answer your question about method.

FWIW: I'm a Doflein trained, Doflein promoting person. Why? Because it teaches the how of playing and makes you learn how to play with others while holding your own part. That is something I have found lacking with the Suzuki method of concentrating on solo performance. All of my students play in a student orchestra so they have to hold their own because all the sections are playing something different. Is Doflein the best method for everyone? No. Just like any teacher cannot connect with every student.

May 7, 2019, 1:09 AM · My goals:
1) To play violin within my Cajun and Zydeco bands (and some blues) at a presentable level for the gigs we get. Cajun and ZYdeco are dying back, and I need to move into other genres.

2) To become technically much more proficient so that I have options.

3) MAYBE join a community orchestra if my reading and playing progress enough.

My teacher knows all this. She's a classical teacher, but is trying to work with me. I'm working through Suzuki books at the moment. Book 1. Also bringing in stuff to meet my aforementioned goals.

May 7, 2019, 6:57 AM · The Mark O'Connor book might be good for you.
May 7, 2019, 10:44 AM · I bought one. Wasn't real moved by his selection of pieces. Some of his later books looked more interesting. I know, build ability to get there.

Perhaps I have a greater affinity to classical than Americana, except for blues and cajun.

May 7, 2019, 11:00 PM · In addition to what has been mentioned:
ABC's of Violin
A tune a day
Leopald Auer
I think there is something by Paul Rolland
Maia Bang

There is also another series that I used as a child. I don't feel like walking up the stairs to look for it but might come back later with the name

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