Switching from Suzuki to ABRSM?
Hello everyone -
I am a violist/violinist who has been teaching Suzuki based violin and viola for 10+ years. This spring I am moving from the US to the UK and have become very intrigued by the ABRSM curriculum, which uses very little of the pieces I am familiar with through the Suzuki and Suzuki adjacent materials. Has anyone had experience transitioning from one repertoire sequence to another? If so, from what to what? Why did you switch? Would you do it again?
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights.
Can't help with your specific question, but you may be interested in joining ESTA (European String Teachers' Association), of which my teacher, a freelance violist, is a member.
As far as I know, ABRSM is a system of graded examinations. It is not a comprehensive curriculum. While there are some teachers who teach purely to the exams -- i.e. each year working on just the exam material -- it's not actually a good way to learn to play the instrument. Rather, the normal way is to teach the violin, working towards building the skills necessary to take the next grade's exam.
One other thing: students often do not take every grade. I took ABRSM piano exams through DipABRSM. In the numbered grades, I only took exams for Grades 2, 3, 5, and 8. The only requirement is that Grade 5 Music Theory must be taken before any exam in Grade 6 and above.
Although ABRSM is not a method, if you play every piece in a book, you will notice that there seem to be certain techniques that are introduced at each level and which are reinforced throughout the book.
If you use Suzuki for repertoire but not for the recommended sequenced skills and teaching points and using old pieces to reinforce new skills, presumably you would have your own system of keeping track of techniques and things, preferred scales and exercises, etc., so then you would still do that when using ABRSM repertoire.
However, thorough Suzuki teacher-training gives us the tools to see under the surface of any method.
The OP is intrigued by the differences in repertoire.
Gordon, There have been several revisions of the Suzuki repertoire, not always for the better. The last revision included a filler piece or two that can easily be skipped for requiring no new skills.
Intrigued in what way - the mere fact of differences, the actual differences? Any nervousness at the prospect of leaving a familiar realm? Because of text tone, I'm having difficulty interpreting "uses very little of the pieces I am familiar with" as a positive or a negative attribute or a simply a neutral wariness.
I wonder what Ann is referring to. The only new addition I can think of in the violin repertoire is the addition of the Bohm to book 4, and that's got a very clear reason for its existence, as a super-common exercise in spiccato.
Thanks all! This has been very helpful.
One thing to be aware of-- people the UK use ABRSM classifications quite routinely. I've seen audition lists for university orchestras where people are asked to state their level, and it is almost always expressed as one of those exams. (Level 8, etc.) Almost, if not quite like SAT scores among high school seniors.
I imagine ABRSM changes because the examiners are tired of listening to the same small selection of pieces constantly. That might be a cynical take, though.
There's also an enormous pool of already-graded pieces; note the existence of the graded anthologies that Gordon mentions above. At least for piano and violin, ABRSM exam lists could probably rotate through existing lists of graded repertoire for a century without repeating a piece.
Some old favourites return every decade or two, e.g. the Telemann Presto in F (not difficult, but I wish I knew the best fingering for it), and various Corelli pieces. You can get historical materials in some charity shops, but that's becoming more trouble than it's worth. When I say "modern", I don't mean Prokofiev, I mean composers younger than me.
I'm not saying anything about ABRSM's actual practices, of course -- just that they could probably go that long on their existing library of graded materials without repeating a piece if they wanted to.
Sure, the back library is vast. And that's just the exam books. The syllabuses also contain much material you have to buy separately, if you prefer. It's just a pity that the older exam books are no longer available. I suppose one day it will all be online, pay per view.
To the OP ... I suggest you contact the British Suzuki Institute, which is responsible for Suzuki training in the UK. I am sure they will be able to put you in touch with local teachers who combine the Suzuki method with ABRSM exams. It is completely usual.
Thanks for the example of how someone mixes the method and the grades, Jonathan. That makes a lot of sense and is good to know what level youth orchestras require as that varies a lot in the US.
Just to add that if you're teaching violin in the UK you will often be expected to know the ABRSM material and how the system works. Not every teacher enters pupils for ABRSM exams (particularly not Suzuki teachers) but most do. For most parents and schools, ABRSM grades are the only thing they're really aware of in music education. As well as expectations for entry level of student orchestras and music colleges, the grade levels also inter-operate with the academic exam system a bit (if you're playing at grade 8 level then you should get a good mark on the performance component of Music A-level).
Yes to the above. The vast majority of UK school music teaching jobs (including the one I currently hold) expect a working knowledge of ABRSM as a prerequisite to suitability of application.
ABRSM sets exams (I vaguely recall the AB Associated Board - of Oxford and Cambridge - set my German O-level? London was a separate board). Your teacher's methods will guide you towards your next exam. It's like the rest of the exam system, which you can swerve if you prefer to send your kids to Summerhill.
@Gordon - ABRSM only does music exams. Other kinds of exam boards exist and do the regular qualifications (GCSEs, A-levels and so on). SATs are the standardised exams US students take for things like university ("college") admissions.
The SATs and ACTs are the college-entry exams in the US.
The SAT and ACT are standardized exams to test if you know what 2+2 and the definition of because is. Exaggerated simplicity but not by much.
I got the impression SATs were basically IQ tests? And do you sit nothing else?
We do sit nothing else.
They are among the few things that nearly every undergrad will have done. And the insecure will know exactly what their scores were, in case they get asked by someone even more insecure.
Or you can just have friends who consult each other... you know... to find out if they have the same chances of going to a college together... Not everyone is as vile as that. Are you projecting Stephen? jk
Gordon, The SAT isn't an IQ test, it tests specific knowledge of math, English, etc. The ACT is more often used in the Midwest. Stephen, even 47 years later I remember my scores. Nothing to do with insecurity, they are important but now not so much with the drastic change in admissions requirements. In fact the SAT may be abolished quite soon.
Yep, I remember my scores too (on the 1600 SAT scale...it was changed to 2400? changed back? content redone? falling out of favor for various reasons?*), we were of course comparing among friends, guidance counselors used them to suggest what colleges are more or less likely to accept you, certain scholarships were based on ACT score, they go on your resume when you're a novice with nothing else...
In the UK, SATs are tests in basic learning children sit at 7, 11 and 14 (ages from memory). With Covid they have been pretty much forgotten. They don't really have any significance except for quality control of the educational system - checking that schools are getting kids to where they should be - and are in no way qualifications. GCSEs are formal exams in different subjects sat at 16 and depending on school and aptitude students normally do about 8-12 subjects. A levels are more specialised exams sat at 18, usually in just 3 subjects and used as preparation for university.
Mengwei, I'm from the pre-revision SAT too, total maximum score 1600. It's been revised several times since then to reflect the change in focus of the public school system and now is the last thing colleges look at when making admissions decisions. It used to be the first thing so times really have changed.
Definitely check out the trinity exam syllabus as well. And look at old syllabuses for any mentions of Suzuki pieces so you can tell where the books fit in.
Anish, my take on it is that ABRSM is considered more "academic" - for example for the higher performance grades the student has to have passed a music theory paper. Trinity is a bit more flexible that way, which makes it much more attractive to those whose preference is for more popular music styles. In the end though the grades are supposed to be comparable and interchangeable as qualifications.
I don't know anything about Trinity either. I bought one of their compilation books (grade 3-5 consolidation) about a year ago.
Gordon, even within a single board a piece can occasionally appear at different times in different grades ... I assume the examiners are given criteria to mark to that are more exacting when it is in a higher grade.
True, however I looked at the piece today. Trinity's recommended fingering is for 5th position on the D string, which I don't think ABRSM grade 4 would ever require.