Suzuki viola question

Edited: April 29, 2021, 10:42 PM ·
In context, I am an amateur classical—fingerstyle guitarist, semi-professional trumpeter and intermediate pianist who took up viola a couple of years ago at age 60 as a project to carry me into retirement. I have no particular design on public performance, but would like to be able to execute some classical and Celtic pieces to my own satisfaction. My teacher is Suzuki based but allows me to branch into outside material of interest. He is a violinist and guitarist and less familiar with the higher volumes of Suzuki viola. All that to say that I am on the last couple of pieces in Suzuki viola 3, and looking ahead to volume 4, I perceive a quantum leap from Bach minuets and gavottes to Seitz, Vivaldi, and Telemann concertos. For those of you familiar with this method, are my fears unfounded? But if so, any advice on transitioning to the concerto literature? Are there some volume “3 1/2” pieces to suggest?

Replies (11)

Edited: April 29, 2021, 11:19 PM · If the particle didn't make the leap, it would never get out of the quantum well - Be the particle.

I don't know about the specifics of Suzuki, and especially for viola, but sometimes our fears are unfounded, and we may feel like we're getting thrown in the deep end, when it's actually encountering that next level that takes our playing to the next level.

If you want some extra support, etudes can be really helpful to bridge these kinds of gaps, and are an important and indispensable part of REALLY learning. If you aren't doing etudes, and you have the energy and motivation to take some additional load, then ask your viola teacher about starting to work on them systematically. Eventually, you really start working on etudes that are technically harder than the pieces you play, and they bring you forward; since the etudes are pretty limited in size and scope, their difficulty doesn't feel insurmountable, and instead they become like hitting the weight room in order to benefit you for the sport you play.

I forget if Kayser or Wohlfahrt would be the appropriate thing at your level, but I'm sure there are viola editions. However, there might be viola-specific etude books that I'm not aware of, or even etude books that precede Kayser and Wohlfahrt.

Edited: April 30, 2021, 7:44 AM · You might pick up a copy of "Solos for Young Violists, Volume 1" by Barbara Barber. The corresponding violin book is, I believe, geared toward the violin student at approximately the Book 4 level.

A good transcription of the Bach Cello Suites for Viola will be a fine investment and a worthy retirement project. You only need Suites 1-4 as the last two are ill-suited to viola. (This is according to William Primrose.) I have the Primrose edition of the suites for viola and I don't like it ... choose something else. Yes -- some of the suite movements are really hard. Feel free to cherry-pick the ones you can play.

I also recommend that you check out the Bach Gamba suites. I found them enjoyable on viola. Have you a pianist-friend? They are lovely with piano, harpsichord, or organ.

If you're thinking about eventually playing string quartets, then you might consider picking up a copy of Haydn Op. 20 in score format (e.g., cheap Dover edition) and at least start listening to those with the score in your lap, which I find great fun. This music is significantly harder than my other suggestions. When you feel you're ready you can buy the parts.

Edited: April 30, 2021, 7:56 AM · We must remember that the Suzuki repertoire was designed on the basis of frequent listening, to "nourish" the ear and ensure good intonation and rhythm; but also creative teaching, where exercises for new challenges are invented "on the fly".

Studies can be useful to avoid burnout. I find Kayser more "musical" than Wolfhart. Poorly composed studies will numb our musical senses.

Third position:
We can start by playing easy pieces or passages from Books 1 & 2 in 3rd position by ear, before writing the new fingerings under the notes.
Some phrases will be impractical, and we soon find which ones to leave in 1st position.
In third position, the bow must play nearer the bridge with a firm contact. The left wrist may or may not touch the viola's shoulder (mine certainly doesn't).

I can dig out my own exercises and put them on line, if anyone's interested.

April 30, 2021, 8:05 AM · The Peters Edition of the Bach suites is very good, and perhaps the Watson Forbes edition, that is alright.

The Menuetto in the first Suite might be a nice starting point.

Obviously follow your teachers guidance in this, but I would start with Movement 2 of the Telemann concerto from Suzuki book 4, its good fun and very approachable.

Paul's suggestion of "Solos for Young Violists, Volume 1" by Barbara Barber is an excellent one, lots of lovely tunes in that book!

April 30, 2021, 9:16 AM · I play viola "part time" and use the Suzuki books. The viola books progress more rapidly than the violin books do, beginning with book 5. Book 4 seems like a quantum jump but once you begin it you will see it isn't as difficult as it looks. The big thing with book 4 is you are expected to learn more bowing techniques at the same time as starting double stops and other things so the learning is more compressed. Just take it more slowly. Slow and steady wins the race.
April 30, 2021, 10:04 AM · As someone who just made the "leap" from viola Suzuki 3 to 4 (I am working on Seitz), I agree with others - just take the leap. It's not the giant step it might seem at first. Every time I look ahead to the next piece or book, I am convinced those are way too advanced for me. And yet, with practice and guidance, they soon are within reach. I'll also support the addition of Solos for Young Violists, Vol 1. As for études, my teacher has added Mazas 30 Etudes Spéciales Opus 36 Vol 1 (viola). Good luck!
April 30, 2021, 4:54 PM · Thank you all for these helpful suggestions. As a matter of fact I have one sister who is a pianist that I play with and—don’t laugh here—the other sister plays accordion. I play classical with the pianist and Celtic with the accordionist. Part of my situation is that my teacher is moving away for graduate study in a non-musical field and we will be doing some Zoom, but I am going to be more to my own devices for awhile.
April 30, 2021, 5:18 PM · The accordion is a lovely and versatile instrument, fun to play, I have heard, and fun for sing alongs and so forth too.
April 30, 2021, 5:22 PM · You can probably still transcribe the accompaniment part of any composition by Paganini or Sarasate on there and experience no change in the music.
April 30, 2021, 7:57 PM · I teach viola and use the Suzuki books. I go straight from book 3 into book 4. The last piece in Suzuki Viola Book 3 is from the Bech Cello Suites. In Book 5 you will do 3 movements from the G Major Back Cello Suite and 2 more in Book 6.

My First Viola Concerto by Sarah DuBois is a great piece to do in book 4. (Shar carries it.) Part way through Book 4 you will be ready for Michael Kimber's Concertino. You may need to put off the last movement to book 5. Michael Kimber has many other wonderful pieces to explore at all different levels. His music is sold through his own website.

The Shostakovich Impromptu Is a possibility in Book 4 and a great choice for later also. (I think sheet music plus carries it.) It is a one page piece with both fast and lyrical sections.

Middle to end of book 4 the Berceuse and Serenade from Frank Bridges 4 pieces for Viola and Piano are a possibility.

The Sassmannshaus viola repertoire books are useful also.

There are some fiddle books available for viola also.

The American Viola Society website has databases to search through. Their Facebook page is awesome and active.

April 30, 2021, 11:02 PM · I used the Suzuki viola books to "rehab" myself into a "violist." I had performed 7 times on viola in ensembles and a few minor solos from age 40 to about 60+, but every time I played I had to reacquaint myself with reading the alto clef. So I after I bought a new viola 25 years ago I bought Suzuki books 4 -7 (as far as they went at the time) and read through them. It worked to turn my mind into reading alto and treble clefs on viola with no further problems - no longer had to think about it. Finally about 6 years ago I move from violin section to viola about 6 years ago and played there until about 6 months before the pandemic hit. Then when we gained 3 new violists and lost some violinists - I moved back into the violins. I have also played viola in a chamber group all those years - we have ranged from string trios to full 13-piece (13-part) serenades.

I think the Suzuki viola repertoire has expanded in the years since then - but I've downloaded "tons" from IMSLP to keep building my viola reading chops.

I do recommend reading through Suzuki books from where it is immediately straight forward for you all the way to the end. OR - if you can find what music is the same or equivalent download it for free from IMSLP.

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