giving up teaching private lessons

July 2, 2021, 3:12 PM · Hello,

For those of you who teach private lessons, have you ever considered giving it up?

One of my goals for this year was to rebuild my studio after the pandemic, but the more I think about it the more I consider just not trying to get more students. I have taken great pride over the past few years in teaching simply because I love to teach and not because I need the money (though it is a perk!). I'm starting to feel that that love has worn off.

I would definitely admit that this comes from the mild dread of teaching the same Suzuki book 1 material for ump-teenth time. The lack of diversity in content is killer. It seems that every time I get a kid a decent way through book 1 or into book 2 they decide to move on to a different activity. This is often because of sports or clubs.

I also feel bad for my students because my town is a sort of musical desert, with few options for young musicians looking to play in ensembles and make friends. There are more opportunities for band kids, but even then our options pail in comparison to other places. Kids ditch violin for team sports where they can be with other kids and be social. I've considered trying to fix this, but it just isn't possible with a day job.

Have any of you guys been here? How did you cope? What did you decide?

Thanks for being my violin emotional support group!

Replies (47)

July 2, 2021, 3:16 PM · Can you gang up with a more full-time colleague to create a Book 2+ ensemble for kids to stay together and be motivated to learn?
July 2, 2021, 4:41 PM · I have a friend who studied with Suzuki as a child and went on to the Paris Conservatory after Matsumoto. Fine violinist. I once-and only once!-asked him how many times he had played Twinkle Twinkle in his life (he is in his 70's) and the look I got was not one I ever want to see from him again.
He says that he finds little gifts and pleasures in each student, and finds ways to pass on the ones who aren't really motivated or working hard. He has students of all levels. A big part of it for him is the sorting process and audition when selecting the students. I can not recall, recently, a student who spent a short period of time with him.
Oh, and he loves the violin! He loves great food more than the violin, but other vices and proclivities less so...
Edited: July 2, 2021, 5:32 PM · I taught some violin students from the time I was about 30 until I was about 74 (I also added cello students when about 12 years before I quit teaching). It was always an avocation not my main work.

I quit because I was suddenly down to only one young student and she went on a long trip with her family. It seemed the perfect time to quit -- and I had started having a few physical problems that made it difficult for me to demonstrate music the way I wanted to -- and just sitting on a chair talking about it and smoking cigarettes (the way Galamian did) seemed inappropriate to me.

By the way I did form a small ensemble of half a dozen middle school musicians (just for one semester) a few years before that - but that was unrelated to my quitting later. That was lots of fun (strings and winds). We finished the semester playing Haydn's Toy Symphony for a Christmas Party at which the kids' parents were handed the toy instruments to play. (A Madhouse!)

July 2, 2021, 7:45 PM · Hi Michael, I understand how you feel about how the beginner material can become monotonous. For that very reason I've been arranging alternate material around the Suzuki book 1 and 2 level in order to create a little more variety. I'd be happy to share them with you freely. I have arranged piano accompaniments to go with them, but my intention was that they might be tuneful and enjoyable even without the accompaniment. It's entirely up to you, but if you're interested, let me know.
July 2, 2021, 7:56 PM · Let me point out that Suzuki is not the only "system" for beginners. There is at least one other in Colourstrings
Edited: July 2, 2021, 9:59 PM · Michael Pacheco, I have been in your situation, and I think it's normal for any teacher to evaluate what they're doing. For me, I did spend some time in a music "desert" a few years ago- anything to motivate my students had to come from what I came up with. It was a small town where the people practical, hardworking, and frugal. So, I supplemented a lot with fiddle tunes (guitar playing family members loved this), different styles of music, and pieces they could play for special occasions. They needed a more of a practical reason to play than just learning a piece to perform in a recital. That helped. It added variety and motivated them to play more.

When we moved cross country for my husband's job, I took some time off teaching while I decided what to do. When I decided to start taking students again, I realized I had missed it so much and was excited to get started again.

It's okay to take a break or only have a few students. You may also want to look into camps or refresher courses to get some new ideas.

July 3, 2021, 1:33 AM · You can find on you tube, piano accompaniments of some concertinos as Kucler, Mikolic,Curci,,Rieding ,ecc..I have a good audio setting ,so i use the musicals bases to vary my teaching
July 3, 2021, 2:02 AM · Jake, I asked a Colourstrings teacher how she coped with the considerable number of boys who cannot distinguish brown from green, or blue from purple. She hadn't realised why some boys got confused by the colour coding.
There are many good things in the method, though..
July 3, 2021, 2:34 AM · Adrian it was the only other method I could think if aha
July 3, 2021, 3:19 AM · Hi,
I have never heard of color strings, but being a synesthete with numbers and letters having their unique colors to me, I would find it very distracting to memorize some “wrong” colors, which in no case has anything to do with the instrument, anyway.
Here in the German speaking area, there is a quite good system “Fiedel Max” by Andrea Holzer-Rhomberg. In case you find Suzuki too boring for yourself.

I myself have no students, right now, except for my own son, but his lessons have deteriorated, lately, too. He has lost his drive, having nothing to practice for, no students’ recitals, no orchestra- all canceled due to Corona.

I used to teach only very few students, and I found it rewarding and exhausting, at the same time.
Preparing them for students competitions, I basically had to work on each single note with them. The rewarding part was their progress, the exhausting part, though, that they didn’t seem to learn much of it beyond the actual places we had worked on, together. One pageturn and a similar place, and they NEVER saw the similarities.
And, most exhausting of all, they didn’t practice what they needed, only what they found easy, anyway. I gave them very clear instructions and broke it down to very doable pieces, but they didn’t do it. This is also the problem with my son. He rather plays a passage 100 times totally chaotic instead of investing ten minutes of concentrated work, ONCE. I can do this with him, but only on some passages. He would have to practice the rest of his pieces, accordingly. And that is what none of my students ever were willing to do. And the reason why I stopped taking new ones. They want to be able to play, in an abstract sort of way, but when it comes down to really do what is needed to achieve the skills, they dread the work. Hence, they don’t REALLY want to, and so, why should I want to?

My parents were piano teachers, my father (age 77) has still one or two students, and he is so dedicated to music and teaching! For him, there is no doubt: Music is the most important thing on earth, and when the students need more instruction, he just offers more lessons and he has no problem with working on every note with them, if they don’t transfer what they had learned earlier, to a similar situation. He is so dedicated because of his love of music and urge to pass that on.
I invested just as much energy in my students, and I only saw how exhausting it was. That’s because I don’t find music the most important thing in life, and if the students don’t take it seriously, why should I squeeze MY brain for changing THEIR priorities.

I have not regretted quitting teaching, so far, I must say.

Taking a break is an easy thing to do for you when your existence doesn’t depend on the income. Then, you will see if you miss it or not. The fact that you live in a musical desert is no obligation that you have the obligation to create an oasis of music. It is very precious when dedicated teachers do this but no one forces you to be the one to handle this task.

July 3, 2021, 4:17 AM · Greetings,
not saying that it’s central to the problem, but kids will always notice this:

I'm starting to feel that that love has worn off.


July 3, 2021, 6:50 AM · Surely there are many other programs/methods to teach violin ? I have had three violin teachers and none of them used Suzuki or Colorstrings etc.
Edited: July 3, 2021, 8:59 AM · I teach university chemistry, and I have a research lab where I provide individualized instruction to undergraduate and graduate students. I am unusual among my colleagues in that I prefer to teach laboratory technique to each student myself, until they get up to a certain level of proficiency. Others who have similar positions will gasp upon hearing this, but the plain fact is that I have never been especially well-funded (partly because I would prefer to be in the lab with my students rather than in my office writing proposals), so therefore my group has always been fairly small.

But, still, I teach each student how to set up reactions, how to monitor them, how to work them up, how to prepare samples for analysis, how to do thin-layer and flash chromatography, how to distill solvent, how to recrystallize a solid substance, how to transfer substances anaerobically and to use a glove box -- etc. Do they learn these things in their courses? Well, ideally, yes. But we do not live in an ideal world, and moreover, all techniques must be modified and optimized for the context in which they are used.

And the only things that really keep me going doing that are (1) I know I will see better results from students who I have trained personally, rather than students who have been taught sloppy methods and short-cut protocols because they were trained by other students barely more senior than themselves, and (2) I find happiness and fulfillment in trying continually to find better ways to teach them. Better explanations for how things work, more efficient methods of teaching, etc., and (3) Vacuum pumps are expensive.

Like any violin teacher, I have also encountered students who are less teachable. For whatever reason, they just don't learn what I am trying to teach them. And often that evolves into long discussions about what they really want out of their careers and I am very forthright in my offers to help them transition into other things, such as pharmacology or medicine or engineering. Synthetic chemistry is not for everyone. Neither is the violin.

And Buri is right -- students can feel it when the joy has gone out of your work as a teacher. They feel it keenly.

July 3, 2021, 9:09 AM · In defense of the students, why should they want to continue when the "love has worn off"?

Most kids could care less about classical music. They just want to play something pretty and fun.

We can encourage them to go to camps and competitions to get better, but for what? To get through all Suzuki books? Most teachers don't even use all books. To learn how to play Bruch? Few kids know who Bruch is, or even care to know. To get a scholarship to college? Competition is fierce, and why spend all youthful time and energy on something that, chances are, will not happen. We see highschool kids on here all the time practicing for several hours a day wanting to be a professional, only to find out the reality that they have a better chance of winning a million dollar lottary, and if they will not be satisfied playing gigs or teaching, they're wasting their time.

I struggle with this and my teaching everytime I see the light start to leave my students eyes. What do they want? What do I want for them? What is reality?

I can try to bring in more pieces or use different methods, but I still have yet to find a method that actually connects with an 8-12 year old student starting out. A good balance of graded repertoire, theory, technique and artistry.

Maybe if I lived in the populated eastern US my students would have the desire to play Mozart 4 by the time they turn 13, but I haven't in 22 yesrs of teaching, had a student with that passion.

Is it the student? Is it the method? My teaching goals? Lack of opportunities?

July 3, 2021, 9:09 AM · In defense of the students, why should they want to continue when the "love has worn off"?

Most kids could care less about classical music. They just want to play something pretty and fun.

We can encourage them to go to camps and competitions to get better, but for what? To get through all Suzuki books? Most teachers don't even use all books. To learn how to play Bruch? Few kids know who Bruch is, or even care to know. To get a scholarship to college? Competition is fierce, and why spend all youthful time and energy on something that, chances are, will not happen. We see highschool kids on here all the time practicing for several hours a day wanting to be a professional, only to find out the reality that they have a better chance of winning a million dollar lottary, and if they will not be satisfied playing gigs or teaching, they're wasting their time.

I struggle with this and my teaching everytime I see the light start to leave my students eyes. What do they want? What do I want for them? What is reality?

I can try to bring in more pieces or use different methods, but I still have yet to find a method that actually connects with an 8-12 year old student starting out. A good balance of graded repertoire, theory, technique and artistry.

Maybe if I lived in the populated eastern US my students would have the desire to play Mozart 4 by the time they turn 13, but I haven't in 22 yesrs of teaching, had a student with that passion.

Is it the student? Is it the method? My teaching goals? Lack of opportunities?

Edited: July 4, 2021, 9:31 AM · I think we have to play to youngsters to show them the beauty and vitality of the music we love, however simple.

But if a child prefers another instrument, fine; if they stop all music, I wonder what I have done wrong.

July 3, 2021, 10:02 AM ·
Try the "O'Connor Method, A New American School of String Playing."

Students learn all kinds of music, including non-classical tunes that they will have fun playing for friends and peers.

Edited: July 3, 2021, 10:30 AM · Responding to Rebecca Brown, I totally understand what you are saying. As for me, I started the violin at age 5 because my parents said "pick two instruments" and I had already had a year or so of piano "lessons" from my dad, and my oldest brother was playing the violin (he soon entered middle school and gave up the violin for the trumpet).

I enjoyed my violin lessons very much and I wanted to learn to play like my teacher. Because my attention span was typical of a 5-year-old boy, he spent at least half of our half-hour lesson just playing his violin, showing off various techniques. In a few years when I had built some very basic skill, he played duets with me. he would ask me to sight-read my duet part, and then I'd work on it for a week, and then we'd play it again. We did all the Pleyel, the Dont Op. 20, the Mazas duets, Bach Double, etc., this way. I've never known a violin student who was not absolutely thrilled to play duets with his or her teacher. It's fun and it makes one feel more grown-up.

I still mostly enjoy the aspects of music that are collaborative. I'm a jazz pianist and I enjoy playing gigs and jam sessions with other players in my area. I like to get together with other string musicians to play chamber music.

To be fair, I was always exposed to classical music from a young age because that is what my parents listened to. Especially my dad was always listening to piano music -- Chopin, Beethoven, and Mozart. I never heard a Mozart violin concerto until I started working on one (which I was not prepared to do by any measure). The first violin record that I had (my dad did not really listen to violin music) was Isaac Stern playing the Franck Sonata.

I have been to "Suzuki Camp" many times with my kids. Maybe eight times. They get a master class on their "working piece" but mostly they like the collaborative things -- the orchestra and the chamber groups and the group class where they all work on the same Suzuki piece for the whole week, usually incorporating some kind of add-on, which might be marching around or some kind of silliness.

The pieces are classical pieces. So what? They're mostly just ditties. The "Martini Gavotte" isn't exactly Nobel-prize-winning literature as far as music goes, let's face it. But what's nice is that the students have camaraderie in that they have all been through the same preparation and they know the same pieces. This feature is celebrated on the first day of the camp when each instrument has its own "play in" led by the teachers. The students are told in advance what pieces they need to prepare in case they are chosen for the group class, and these are the pieces used in the "play in". I join the play-in even though I was not a Suzuki kid and can only play up through about Book 4 by ear, and I have gaps in what I can recall in the moment.

The camp I'm referring to is "Blue Ridge Suzuki Camp" and I recommend it especially to anyone within, say, 6 hours drive of central Virginia (the camp is an hour west of Front Royal). It's an especially good camp for kids who are NOT ultra-serious prodigies and who want to enjoy their violins (and violas, cellos, pianos, and guitars) in a very warm and supportive environment. There is no audition. Parents are asked to reflect honestly on their kids' abilities on the application form. The camp typically runs from Father's Day through the following Friday. Parents are encouraged to get involved with their violins (and ...). During this past camp I played in a quintet (Schubert Cello Quintet) and I played pickup music with two others (read through a few Beethoven String Trios). Bring your violin and bring along some chamber music to play! It's okay if it's intermediate-level arrangements. It's just fun to get together and play.

July 3, 2021, 10:33 AM · I was interested in George's suggestion of the O'Connor Method. I see no reason why it shouldn't work. Well, that's not true. Actually I do see a reason, and I'm sad to admit that. I am genuinely worried that in some quarters, fiddle music or anything that smacks of "low culture" is looked down upon by parents and that this prejudice rubs off on their kids. I once felt this prejudice myself, and I find myself wondering where I learned it.
July 3, 2021, 12:43 PM · To Emily's points of having to exhaustively teach note by note, I wonder if this is rooted in the student not having been taught to deliberately learn to look for patterns. (I suppose some students don't have the intellectual horsepower to do so, but it probably helps if it's an explicit set of instructions rather than something that we hope that the student will eventually intuit.) There might be an issue with overly high repertoire difficulty, too, making it hard for the student to see the forest for the trees.

While I spent much of this pandemic unable to play thanks to frozen shoulder, I took up Scottish fiddling last summer and managed about four enthusiastic months before being forced to stop. Lately, as I've picked up the instrument again in the past two months or so -- I'm not quite back at being able to reliably practice daily again, or for more than about 20 minutes a day, but it's still something -- I've spent most of my time fiddling. Summer is competition season for Scottish fiddlers, so that's provided some shape and goals for practicing, but I've found a depth of satisfaction in the time spent that's often been lacking in my classical playing.

A switch in style represents new intellectual stimulation (and some new technical skills, too). And what I'm learning is helping to improve my classical playing in various ways. In this modern world, there's a strong argument that every violinist should have a little bit of multistyle flexibility.

July 3, 2021, 1:01 PM · When I was teaching (and had switched to the Suzuki books) I always introduced "Devil's Dream" sometime before a student got past Book 1. It is a lively piece, requires good right/left hand coordination and gives a beginner a sense of accomplishment. If I recall correctly, the notes are within the range of "Twinkle."
Edited: July 3, 2021, 1:05 PM · Hi Paul,

My son started Suzuki and then went to O'Conner. He was his teacher's first O'Conner student, and now she has quite a few. His liked it, and she liked it.

My son went on to both play in a strings program in a magnet arts high school Orchestra as well as win the state Youth Fiddle Championship and place in the top 3 adult categories. He also had a bluegrass band that played at local festivals and IBMA.

Most importantly, he is still playing in his senior year in college. I think he will be playing music for personal enjoyment for the rest of his life.

In my experience, parents really enjoy the fiddle music, even in recitals, and perhaps more importantly for motivation, so did his peers. I would not be concerned with people looking down on fiddle music as "low culture."

When I was a kid, there was a stereotype that a boy carrying a violin case was a "sissy." I don't know where that came from, but it wasn't pleasant.

July 3, 2021, 1:22 PM · I am not a teacher, but have lately become a de facto tutor to two string buddies who have joined me in learning the blues. After 75 years of classical music, I could no longer be enthusiastic about it due to my cat's illness and death...I jumped into a blues streak. Lydia is so right when she writes, "A switch in style represents new intellectual stimulation (and some new technical skills, too)." Sorry I waited so long to meet and enjoy learning this new (but very old) style. Perhaps teaching a variety of music styles could alleviate a 'loss of love'.
July 3, 2021, 5:07 PM · Giving it up - no, I enjoy what I do for the most part (yes there are burdensome aspects but what job or career doesn't). Sure, I need to eat but also am not interested in another kind of day job / gainful employment.

However, I hear you on studio rebuilding and beginners. After a year of working nearly exclusively with established families (the ones who made it through pandemic transition), I have a mild dread of dealing with newcomers. I will eventually, but logistics are complicated right now, and my energy and resources are better spent taking care of current students.

Suzuki 1 might be repetitive for me but it's new for them and I can discover different ways to teach the same thing, thus improving my skill as a teacher. Suzuki "levels" are the basis for my groups and I still use a lot of "non Suzuki" material. We just had our spring concert two weeks ago, first live performance since Before, and the material was about half and half. I think the social aspect helps to keep families in my program, if that is something they value, but I imagine it would be difficult to get a group program going with day job responsibilities and without someone to collaborate with.

To address "the wearing off of love", I had to (over time) think about what did I find most difficult about teaching or administrating, what behaviors in students or parents were most negatively affecting my energy, what is a top factor that might contribute to burnout. Then, consider what are processes or behaviors that I can change or cause to change and what are things that maybe I can't but could change my attitude about. When I could limit the dreadful/annoying parts, it became easier to handle a small amount, without feeling like "everything" was a slog.

July 3, 2021, 5:20 PM · If you don't want to do it, then you should give it up. Full stop.
Edited: July 3, 2021, 6:14 PM · I also can sympathize with the frustration. Only about a tenth of those that start continue long enough to get to the point of being able to play section 2nd violin in a community orchestra. 1 in 100 will get to pro. level and half of those won't actually come in first place at a pro. audition. What was equally frustrating for me was when I had a small student string orchestra. I would lose people to the organized school sports teams. They, (or their parents) would make time for several practice sessions per week, and a game or tournament on weekends, but one afternoon orchestra rehearsal per week was too much. Never mind that music can last for a lifetime. The frustration of lessons at the College level was that I spent most of my time on preparing the student's next "jury" audition instead of focusing on distinct technical tools.
Since I never had an official Suzuki training session I don't feel guilty about not using it. Instead I use either the Doflein series or Mark O'Connor's set. And I have been writing out enough single page technical exercise topics to make a book, probably not worth the extra work of actually publishing it.
I like to ask the question "If you could magically wake up tomorrow with all the technique you needed, what piece or genre would you want to do?" Half of them don't know, and there can be some surprises. One of my students really likes doing the Bartok duets.
July 4, 2021, 7:35 AM · ah Joel.
you like. Doflein too. i was starting to get lonely!
July 4, 2021, 8:21 AM · I think Lydia's comment about Scottish fiddling is interesting. I wonder if the satisfaction students get from learning to fiddle, is that the pieces can be complete in themselves? Concertos need an orchestra, or at least some sort of accompaniment to have the complete sound that was intented.

I am not suggesting we get rid of classical music in violin education, but I can understand the weariness my students get when they are trying to be motivated to spend hours learning something they may never perform with an orchestra and sound "complete" on.

I do like a lot of the pieces from the O'Connor books, and had students in the past that went through them, but for several reasons I haven't committed to using them as my core method. I'm still on the fence on that one.

Edited: July 4, 2021, 4:01 PM · After the last several comments, I'm ready to turn the table. How about students who don't want to learn? Expecting a 7-year-old to place value on what might possible in their early twenties if they get good on the violin is totally unreasonable. But if a student doesn't want to learn to play the violin for its own sake -- because they enjoy the sound of the instrument or the types of music that are played on the violin, etc., then maybe teachers should set them free. I realize that's a whole different "can of worms" (as compared to an entire Diet of Worms) and maybe better for a different thread, but I think in many cases the rationale is the same -- teachers keep on teaching and they keep accommodating students who lost interest years ago but whose parents are keeping them on the bus, simply because another week of teaching and another student in one's studio generates more income. The most important feature of a successful, happy violin studio is a waiting list.

Regarding high school sports, those are team activities, so one player's absence from practice might tend to vitiate the efforts of the others. But more importantly, the coaches are able to demand 100% attendance, and parents acquiesce, because the coaches have auditions and waiting lists. We were lucky that our daughter chose cross-country, which is only nominally a team sport, and especially for the JV squad, the coaches treated it like a running club and did not worry about attendance except for the top few varsity girls. And this in spite of having one of the best teams in the state, consistently. Exercise and camaraderie are important too. Our younger daughter has not faced this issue yet, but she is highly devoted to the cello, so if anything, we will have to push her in the direction of some kind of sport.

July 4, 2021, 9:10 AM · Paul, I totally agree and you made some good points.
July 4, 2021, 10:00 AM · Michael, you seem to me to have a good handle on your situation.

It should be about the music, not about building a studio, etc., and if you dread the twinkle variations, maybe that's right - that Suzuki, being a frustrated violinist, put in more technique at the onset than would be typically used in beginning methods. The typical compromise for ensembles in Suzuki has been to form a "Suzuki group", which is not ensemble music as we generally understand it, but a bare-bones way for groups of people to play together. There is still some ensemble-playing that is learned in this way, and the students and their parents aren't as isolated. Perhaps you could find some local church or school place to make it happen once a week or so.

All beginning music teachers need to come to terms with the fact that by large they will not produce serious or "accomplished" musicians, or music, but they can awaken and celebrate a love of music with their students.

Do you want to let the desert take over or be an oasis?

July 4, 2021, 2:43 PM · To Rebecca's point, I think that fiddle music not only tends to sound complete in and of itself (having a cello or guitar or piano accompanying the violin is a bonus, but it's not vital), but you can also listen to or watch accomplished professionals putting a personal interpretive spin on the music that gives it a certain get-up-and-go.

In other words, what a fiddle student is playing is not a pedagogical step towards getting to play "real music". It is "real music" that accomplished adults will play themselves.

As a player who has always struggled with rhythm and the pulse, fiddling is forcing an awareness of both upon me in a way that I've never really had before. Certainly no bad thing. There are absolutely still classical players who look down on "entertainment" styles, but they are diminishing as multi-style becomes almost mandatory for gigging pros.

July 4, 2021, 4:03 PM · If you want to accompany fiddle music on the piano, you have to learn how to do it. I know a great fiddle player and teacher who also plays great piano and I have been trying to learn her approach every time I hear her, which unfortunately is only once a year -- at camp. By the way music camp is a great place for kids to get introductions to other genres, improv, etc., because often the camp faculty includes specialists in those area who have been hand-picked because they are pied pipers of their trades.
July 4, 2021, 10:11 PM · This is the perspective of an adult beginner who has a learning disorder and was married to a special ed teacher for 20 years. I don't know how to teach violin but I know a fair bit about learning styles. If an instruction method suits a child's learning style, they will be more successful and therefor more motivated than if it doesn't.

How adaptable is the Suzuki method to different learning styles? Why do so many children lose interest and quit?

Sometimes children are pushed into music lessons by well-intentioned adults. I certainly was. My older brother was a child prodigy on drums. He's been a professional drummer since he was twelve. I was too little to stay home alone when my mother took him to drum lessons. She needed a place to park me during his lessons so she signed me up for guitar when I was nine. She thought I would enjoy it and was angry when I didn't. My 3/4 guitar was set up badly. It made my fingers bleed. Because of my undiagnosed learning disorder, I had great difficulty learning how to read music. I couldn't count; I couldn't learn scales. I hated to practice because it hurt and made me feel stupid.

Three years later, I had made no progress and flat-out quit. Spent the next 40+ years believing that I had no ability for music. So much time lost. I have few regrets but this is one of them!

I never touched another instrument until, at age 54, I suddenly decided to play the viola. I've had two viola teachers. The first used Essential Elements 2000 for Strings. I looked forward to classes and enjoyed practicing at home. I discovered that I have a knack for reading music! I can count and understand scales. I love practicing scales...

My second teacher used Suzuki method. I asked him what the difference was between Suzuki method and EE. He sneered (actually sneered!) that Suzuki created soloists, whereas with EE a student would never be more than an orchestra player. I got the distinct impression that this Suzuki teacher felt like he was wasting his time on a student who was too old to become a professional musician.

I have no interest in playing professionally, which is good because it's too late for that. My desire is to learn for the pleasure of learning, play for the pleasure of playing and hopefully not suck. My EE teacher was thrilled for me when I made progress. My Suzuki teacher was frustrated that I wasn't going to become a soloist.

The EE exercises are bite-sized with well-written instructions that I understand. They use snippets of familiar songs from many musical genres, perhaps like the O'Connor method? The lessons are sequential, which suits my sequential learning style. With every exercise I see how I'm learning a skill that will apply to all the later lessons. These books hold my hand almost like having a teacher with me at home. I find the method low-stress and enjoyable.

Perhaps it's my NVLD or maybe it was the teacher, but I found the Suzuki method much less fun and far more difficult than EE. The exercises in the Suzuki book had almost no instructions to go with them.

Since I was spending many more hours practicing at home than actually IN class, I found the EE book with short exercises and detailed instructions to be more helpful than the Suzuki method with long pieces and scanty instructions.

As others have said above, most children studying violin don't expect to earn a college scholarship and go on professionally. It's important to find out what the student wants. Why are they in lessons? Maybe they don't even know what they want to achieve musically, but it's a fair bet that most students want to have fun. Hard is okay as long as it's fun. If they aren't enjoying themself, if they aren't taking enough satisfaction in their accomplishments, most students won't stick with it. They'll find something else to do. If they're lucky, they eventually discover something that lights them up so much, they don't care how hard it is.

I guess my question is, if Suzuki method is for creating professional musicians and most students couldn't care less about that, why not try an approach that's easier and more fun, at least for some learning styles? Perhaps some students will have so much fun learning the basics that they fall in love and decide to commit.

Or maybe I'm just a freak. That's a definite possibility. Because, viola?

Edited: July 4, 2021, 11:18 PM · Amrita, That's interesting because the Suzuki method was originally never intended to produce professional musicians or soloists. It has become something entirely different than originally intended and I think this has happened as it has become Americanized and sort of become industrialized. I'm just grateful that it is only one of many methods.

Also, many teachers who have not have Suzuki training confuse the curriculum with the method. The method uses that curriculum but it could just as well use other music. I was a Suzuki 5th grader but now I'm a Galamian retiree. The Galamian method is much more appropriate for me at this life stage.

I appreciate people's remarks about other music styles. I am trying to learn some fiddle tunes and so forth on my own but am handicapped by a lack of feel for the rhythm and swing of things, as Lydia mentions. I am also completely unable to improvise but I have a friend who is a professional gigging musician who promises to help.

Edited: July 5, 2021, 7:38 AM · Amrita, I would say it's the teacher. A "Suzuki" teacher (quotation marks are deliberate) who tries to produce soloists is going to end up producing kids who think they're on the soloist track, get hyper-competitive, and quit when they don't make it into conservatory. That's the exact opposite of what Suzuki intended. That teacher would have the same effect on students using any method.

I've encountered several teachers like that -- they all rejected me saying I was too old to learn a string instrument (too old to learn even the basics, they said) when I was in my teens, and I ended up self-teaching for the first 16 years I played because I thought no one would be willing to teach a late starter.

I mostly used Essential Elements at first, but combined it with the Suzuki curriculum, and it seemed to work as well as could be expected for self-teaching in the pre-YouTube era.

July 5, 2021, 7:48 AM · Lydia,

Check out It is a terrific site for finding or creating accompaniment tracks for fiddle tunes (combinations of guitar, bass, and/or mandolin).

You can create them for yourself or for students, and they are much more fun than a metronome! Many fiddle tunes accompaniments are in the public library, so you don't have to make them. It is simple to adjust tempo and key.

(I have no affiliation with except as an enthusiastic subscriber!)

July 5, 2021, 9:05 AM · The town I lived in before moving to the SF Bay Area 26 years ago had a marvelous Suzuki School with several teachers. The leader of the school was also the violist in "my" string quartet, principal violist in the community orchestra and a very competent pianist and organist.

A number of the kids studying in that Suzuki school went on to major in music and violin at college, however, long before even reaching the latter Suzuki books they were sent off to "big city" violin teachers (a 300 mile round trip to Los Angeles). I believe that is how it is done for those with the chops to go pro. I was there when Anne Akiko Myers was learning in that Suzuki School and when she played the Vivaldi A minor concerto with our community orchestra at age 6 and the Bach double at age 7 and still concert master when she returned at age 12 to play the Mendelssohn E minor with us. By then she had already played it with the LA Philharmonic and was ready to move on to study with Dorothy Delay at Julliard.

I think that in general is the kind ofpath followed by those we eventually hear about.

Edited: July 6, 2021, 8:27 AM · I think whether the Suzuki system is "intended to produce soloists" depends on the teacher using it.

My violin teacher takes a very warm and patient approach with his young students. He knows the likelihood that any one of them will become a professional violinist is very small. He's giving the parents what they want -- an enriching experience for their child that involves challenge at many levels. Most parents that I know realize that without some extras -- music, art, dance, golf, tennis, soccer, reading, etc. -- their kids would have nothing to do because there's no homework before high school. All these kinds of activities require some level of purpose and organization to extract maximum educational benefit in addition to their intrinsic recreational value.

In my view the most important element of a Suzuki studio is the group class. That's where kids can "compare and contrast" their progress with others. Without that, the violin can become a tiresome, lonely slog.

July 6, 2021, 8:26 AM · I don't think the Suzuki Program has given us a generation of axe murderers. Some kids were unhappy campers for a while as their parents dragged them to violin lessons. Other parents make their kids read books! Can you imagine that?
July 6, 2021, 8:51 AM · When I saw that "Suzuki was intended to produce soloists" I about died laughing. We could probably start a whole new thread on why that statement is wrong. Any teacher who really believes that should read up on the history of the method. I did recently get a transfer student who has only played in her school orchestra for 4 years. She reads notes well, but we are starting back in Suzuki book 1 because it will expose somethings that she hasn't learned yet. She is perfectly happy to do so but keep saying "wow, it's just so wierd playing by myself!"
July 6, 2021, 8:58 AM · Suzuki himself said many times that his intent was to help develop better humans through the study of music. Professional musicians and even soloists coming out of his “method” (he didn’t like that word either) are a byproduct.

I side eye any “Suzuki” teacher who has misunderstood the point so profoundly.

July 6, 2021, 9:00 AM · A teacher who specializes in starting beginners with Suzuki or any other method and thinks they will "produce soloists" is deluded (unless by "soloist" they mean someone who performs a solo in church). The chance that any beginner will become a soloist is astronomically small--struck by lightening/win the lottery--small.
Edited: July 6, 2021, 9:25 AM · I was going to comment on Andrew's post until I realised I may have misunderstood it. I think he's saying that soloists may begin in Suzuki, but then they find better alternatives. If they start in Suzuki, I suppose it's because it's ubiquitous over there. It is comparatively rare in the UK, and maybe the Americans can't imagine a world without it.

I've got multiple books of folk music/world fiddle/bluegrass/Klezmer for when I want to ring the changes. Even some Sevdah from Bosnia.
(is this in the right thread?)

Edited: July 13, 2021, 12:31 PM · As a parent who is supervising 2 kids learning violin, I can attest to the fact that most parents who "subject" their children to music lessons are not planning to make them into soloists. Like Mary Ellen paraphrased from Suzuki, the intent of music learning is to help develop better humans. Effective violin practice is a cerebral activity and requires focus, attention to detail, self-awareness, logical thinking, among other skills. If you are a teacher on this forum, think about how you can bestow these qualities in your students. Teaching twinkle is mundane. Teaching twinkle effectively to each child is one of the most intellectually challenging yet interesting pursuits.
July 13, 2021, 3:16 PM · I suspect there is a misunderstanding involved here. To my understanding, Essential Elements is intended to support public-school string teachers who are teaching "orchestra" to groups of beginners. The books need to be more textbook-like, and cross-instrumental, in order to facilitate learning when little or no individual instruction is occurring. The repertoire, I think, is meant to be played together in a school orchestra setting.

Suzuki is intended to be taught one-on-one, in private lessons (supplemented with group lessons used to teach other skills, including ensemble skills). The repertoire is designed to be played solo (accompanied by piano in performance).

July 13, 2021, 4:09 PM ·
Lydia is spot-on here...while it can be used in other instructional settings, Essential Elements is designed for group instruction of the entire string cohort (violin, viola, cello, AND bass) in an elementary setting, usually grades 4/5.

Paired with supporting materials for individual technical development and music literacy, it can take motivated kids without private lessons to play beginning-level string ensemble repertoire with reasonable attention to things like posture, bow hold, and tone production as well as testable skills in note and rhythm reading. I taught elementary orchestra for nearly twenty years, and while I tried other methods, I found the layout for EE to be the favorite of most of the students who came through my program (with Sound innovations being a close second).

The pace can seem somewhat glacial, but even a student that invests the most minimal amount of time is still able to participate in concerts. If we are going to develop future audience members, one of the important things we must do is ensure that they have a positive experience in ensemble music, even if they only play for a few years.

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