Average ability

December 4, 2022, 5:00 AM · This is not a question, but more sort of "thinking out loud".
One of the things I find really interesting to compare is the ability level between the US and UK students. By the time the average US kid finishes high school at 18, most of them are more advanced than the average UK student.

For students not studying at specialist music course (conservatory et al), most students here in ths UK all play to the same standard, whereas the variety of US university graduates is again higher.
As a result of this, the average teaching level only goes so high here. Most teachers that I have come across in my various searches through the years for my own, only teach grades 1-8 for ABRSM and/or Trinity Guildhall. Not many go a lot higher than that. Or if they do, I feel that they would most likely teach the same pices over and over again with no variety.

Apologies if this comes across in the wrong way or anything, its just some thoughts.

Replies (56)

December 4, 2022, 9:06 AM · How are you comparing the ability of US and UK students? Is it based solely on the ability to play certain pieces of solo repertoire, such as the Paganini caprices?

Are there cultural differences between the US and UK that should be considered? Does one country value the importance of the individual (as opposed to the group) more than the other? If so, how would that factor into making a comparison? If Paganini caprices and concertos were more popular in the US and Elgar’s works for violin were more popular in the UK, what would be the criteria to determine to playing ability across the two countries/cultures?

December 4, 2022, 9:08 AM · You're not wrong. Simon Fischer actually wrote an essay on this explaining why he thinks it is. https://www.simonfischeronline.com/uploads/5/7/7/9/57796211/english_school_of_violin_playing.pdf

From what I have seen at both competitions and among the violinists on Instagram, there are only a handful of UK high school age violinists playing at a high level (ie able to play things like Paganini, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, etc.). In the US, SE Asia, and some other European countries, these kids are all over the place. Most of it has to do with training. In the US and Asia, most of the kids are starting early and using the Suzuki method, which gets them much further along. In other countries, they may not use Suzuki but they have equally rigorous curricula and expectations. Even in Central and South America, you are starting to get large numbers of advanced players through the El Sistema method. The two characteristics, regardless of method, are a relatively early start and a rigorous curriculum, along with high expectations.

December 4, 2022, 10:39 AM · Susan, what a fine essay by Simon Fischer. Thanks for posting.

Fischer says in the UK the promising student is pulled out of the group class. I notice that in the United States the excelling student is often schooled at home.

December 4, 2022, 1:35 PM · Raymond, what I am basing it on is what I have seen here on V.com compared to my people I know irl, and things like the Menuhin competition etc.
December 4, 2022, 3:34 PM · When I clicked on the link in Susan's post, I got a warning from my virus scanner. The page seems to be infected with a computer virus.
December 4, 2022, 4:01 PM · So... I'm American and took ABRSM piano exams up to DipABRSM level, starting in Dubai but continuing after moving back to the United States. My US piano teacher had more than 20 years of teaching experience, but I was her first student to take ABRSM exams.

In terms of repertoire and technical ability, my DipABRSM recital program probably could have gotten me into a third-tier university program as a piano performance major -- definitely not a conservatory, and probably not any of the stronger university programs. However, my piano teacher was impressed by the theory and musicianship components of the ABRSM exams, because those were rarely taught at the same level before college in the US.

December 4, 2022, 5:29 PM · Yes. What Simon said. It is the absolute truth. Apparently he got some harsh backlash for it at that time. Truth-tellers are not always thanked.
December 4, 2022, 7:37 PM · This isn’t anything new either, as far as I can tell. My daughter’s teacher has said that when he was on the competition circuit (decades back, I would guess), he pretty much ignored anyone not from Russia, Eastern European countries, East Asia, and the US.
December 4, 2022, 8:38 PM · On the international competition circuit, there are certainly some very fine young players who have come out of the Yehudi Menuhin School, both currently and over the past two decades or more. But they're the exception that proves the rule.
December 5, 2022, 12:36 AM · Perhaps there are cultural factors at work behind the differences in virtuoso achievement. To what extent is the UK still affected by the 'land without music' reputation? Does the UK's concert-going public still expect the great performers to be foreign? Why are there no UK orchestras that maintain levels and standards comparable to those of Berlin, Los Angeles, New York, Vienna, to list only four? On a different tack, why are the UK's church choirs, organists and army bands so good?
Edited: December 5, 2022, 3:17 AM · I too wasn't able to access simonfischeronline.com which my AVG virus scanner accuses of "phishing"!

I wouldn't claim to have my finger on the pulse but from my limited contacts I do get a strong feeling that violin training in the UK lags behind that in other countries, European as well as the far east and the US. The difficulty of ABRSM pieces seems to have increased somewhat in the last half century, in parallel with the marked improvement in the standard of professional orchestral playing. However, I'm not aware that more kids are being trained to "professional" level than in past ages. In any case this wouldn't seem to be very appropriate at a time when career opportunities and funding for the arts is on a downward slope.

December 5, 2022, 5:31 AM · I think the ABRSM exams being popular is a double edged sword. While it provides benchmarks for the students to work towards, it gives a false "destination" for the learners. A lot of ambitious kids would aim for passing Grade 8 and think they're all done afterwards because that's the highest grade available. First movements of Bach A minor concerto or Beethoven's spring sonata are likely to be hardest piece they'd ever learn and think that's all they need.
December 5, 2022, 5:33 AM · In the US, you’ll always have kids being trained to a higher standard, regardless of professional aspirations, because of the way college admissions are structured. AOs don’t just want kids with perfect GPAs, SAT/ACT scores, they want to see kids that can show passion and achievement in other areas as well.
December 5, 2022, 6:10 AM · Catherine's point is very much what I am talking about. There are 3 diplomas available after grade 8, but most teachers will not have enough in their repertoire to be able to teach enough rep to be able to fill the required amount of time for the recital part. Ans that is only for the first of the 3 diplomas
December 5, 2022, 11:48 AM · Do nations really produce better educations for specific studies? I'm not sure. Are students from Britain smarter than those from the USA?

What about the cost of education and how it is administered?

How much does national culture have an effect on how well trained/taught you are?

On a global scale, I see variations but not a specific bonus for being the product of one nation over the other.

December 5, 2022, 5:20 PM · I think Susan said it best above, Asia and the North America kids regularly start at 5 and 6, if not earlier.
Kids who start here at even 8 or 9 are at a disadvantage.
December 5, 2022, 6:10 PM · Yep. I've met at least two American violinists who claimed to be "late starters" because they started at 8.
December 6, 2022, 12:25 AM · I was a late starter (at 10) and had lessons through school. I know 2 others who started at the same age, and both of them are now professional musicians
December 6, 2022, 4:10 AM · An interesting, under-recognized fact: In comparison to a worldwide standard, in general classical piano training in America is well below the level of violin training. This is hinted at in Laurie's article:
where Eugene Watanabe compares his piano training with that of his wife. This is somewhat reminiscent of Simon Fischer's essay - different teaching traditions arrive at different results.
Edited: December 6, 2022, 12:35 PM · It would be something to have access (as a parent) to a team of social scientists to objectively analyze this and some other topics here. Jake, the sheer number of kids playing at a high level (by starting early) creates the teachers, camps, pre-colleges to serve their needs. And having a large cohort of similarly advanced kids, raises the bar for all of them.
I am sure they're always exceptions and exceptional kids. But, from my very limited experience in the U.S., the eye roll inducing comment 'well played Bruch by 11 or 12' is the very lower edge of being part of the cohort that will later do well in college auditions at the better programs. Again, there are outliers in everything.
I would also send the team to really look at larger life outcomes for kids that pursue some high level of playing, regardless of whether Music becomes their career. Subsets of those who went to college for something else, shifted to another career after a performance degree, those who made it their career....basically how did they fare economically, personal satisfaction, etc.
I really don't know anything. At the core of this comment is I wish there was some real research to inform us.
December 6, 2022, 1:23 PM · Matthew, most kids in the UK here will not reach the Bruch stage at all. Many parents will only go to teachers who don't charge much, and they generally don't teach higher than maybe Mozart 3 and maybe 3 or 4 other pieces on the DipABRSM list (Bruch is on the LRSM, which is the next one up).
Edited: December 6, 2022, 2:04 PM · Most kids in the US won't ever reach the Bruch stage either. Outside of affluent suburban areas, the typical US high school orchestra may have one or two violinists who reach Bach A minor by the time they're 18. Parents who "only go to teachers who don't charge much" are common everywhere. Students who are dedicated enough to reach Bruch are a small minority everywhere.

That's a completely different issue from the availability of teachers who can teach at that level, for those students who are committed enough to get there, or the quality of technical instruction on the pre-professional track.

The thread title seems a bit misleading.

December 6, 2022, 2:16 PM · Andrew thats my point. There are very few teachers, at least in my area, that can get a student to at least that level. There are only maybe 5 that I'd recommend to someone who wants to learn the violin out of the dozens of teachers who are in my area
December 6, 2022, 2:35 PM · I wonder about we humans. We expect wunderkind and never think about the simple joy of making music simply for the joy of making music.

Somehow, if you aren't featured on "From-The-Top" playing "The Bruch" at the age of three you are a total failure in life. (Yes I overstate things to get your attention.)

A late starter at 8, how about 28 - when I started. Yet, I absolutely enjoy playing my instrument simply for my own pleasure.

I think we humans need a reality check. Most of us today are out-living the musicians of the classical period and living a much healthier life. (Remember that Tea and Coffee made with boiled water came in the Baroque Era, before that the only safe drinks were alcoholic.)

Not everyone who picks up an instrument needs to become a professional musician. Some of us just play for the sheer enjoyment.

December 6, 2022, 2:49 PM · George I agree completely
Edited: December 6, 2022, 4:29 PM · Jake, the average parent everywhere is either unwilling to pay for a teacher of that caliber or unaware of the difference between teachers. But as soon as we're talking about the Bruch level, we're not talking about kids whose parents are unwilling to pay for an excellent teacher.

George, I'm completely with you there -- I started at 16 and didn't have my first lesson until I was 33. I even flatly refuse to ever listen to "From the Top" these days because I don't want to promote the cult of the child prodigy, and also because I get the impression its main purpose is to reassure older people that classical music is still alive and in good hands. That said, there are also advanced adult students who want to be able to play professional repertoire (count me in that category), and the availability of teachers who can teach it affects us too.

And the point I was mainly trying to make is that a much earlier start seems to be considered "normal" in the US, to the point where a significant number of people consider 8 to be a late start.

December 6, 2022, 5:01 PM · An odd discussion, because one can't generalise. The fact that there exist US kids who can play the Bruch concerto at 11, and British kids who can't at 18, tells you very little - those are chosen examples.

Most children, in either system, who start learning violin don't get very far. They either give up early on, or get reasonable pleasure in the back desk of a mediocre school orchestra but don't pursue their instrument thereafter. In either country it is a small minority of those who start violin who get to the stage of learning repertoire concertos, and a far smaller minority of the total school population.

I am not sure how you would do a fair comparison, it would probably be of the proportion of kids at state-funded schools without tiger parents who succeed in reaching audition standard for a music performance college. And I wonder if those proportions would be all that different, for both countries they would be very small numbers.

Or you could compare groups of children in each system with similar privileged advantages (parents paying high fees to top teachers) but you might find it more difficult to identify properly comparable groups in each country. I suspect some of the comments above are comparing privileged children in their own country with the average somewhere else. There certainly exist virtuoso violinists who trained in the UK from school onwards, just as there are in the US.

[Disclosure: I have a science background which colours the way I look at claims of evidence, and I live in the UK but have spent time in the US].

December 6, 2022, 5:02 PM · My daughter plays the violin here in the UK and I think the main problem is finding a really good teacher. We have experienced very poor teaching so far which is such a shame. I don’t think we really encourage classical music in the UK as much as in Europe or US. It’s mainly join an orchestra and less encouragement on soloist. This is just our experience anyway so far, my daughter is 10 and around grade 8 plus level to give you an idea.
December 7, 2022, 3:04 AM · Nicola, I think from reading the threads here the problem is similar in the US. The top teachers tend to be in the cities with orchestras, or at least universities with significant music programmes. We often read of American parents driving their children a couple of hours to their lessons.

We were very lucky to have a truly excellent violin teacher in our small Yorkshire town. Otherwise children seem to progress to one of the "junior conservatories" around your daughter's age, but that does depend on living within travel distance of a musical city.

December 7, 2022, 3:52 AM · I have to wonder, is the US seeing a similar boom for other orchestral instruments, so you can expect crack orchestras of young professionals to spring up in every city? Or are you creating a superfluity of skilled violinists in search of an audience and an orchestra to accompany them?
December 7, 2022, 4:11 AM · But even then, a high level teacher like that (if you go to them privately), will be disgustingly expensive. I was talking to my current teacher about lesson prices in my previous lesson. She is very experienced, has about 3 or 4 students going off to conservatoire on violin and viola next september, but she doesn't charge a lot. I asked her why, and she said she wants her high level teaching to be as available to as many people as possible, which I respect enourmously
Edited: December 7, 2022, 6:04 AM · Steve - Well... music is part of the extracurricular arms race for college admissions. We end up training a lot of excellent high school aged musicians who have no intention of makimg a career of it, who leverage their musical accomplishments to get into a more prestigious university and study something other than music. Some may continue playing as amateurs, but many simply stop playing after high school.

So what we actually have in the US is a lot of doctors who could play Bruch G minor when they were in high school.

December 7, 2022, 6:21 AM · Andrew - maybe they could spark a great amateur chamber music revival! Just as long as some of them take up the cello instead. Do teachers encourage their pupils to form groups and explore the repertoire?
Edited: December 7, 2022, 8:14 AM · Did the Suzuki method ever take off in the UK like it did in the US? That could explain why more children here are starting young and playing higher levels of repertoire by the time they get through high school.

Also, between the Suzuki method producing mass numbers of young violinists, the US also has a poplulation much higher than the UK, which means more schools, resources, etc.

December 7, 2022, 9:36 AM · As far as I am aware, Rebecca, Suzuki is not as prominent here at all. Colourstrings is more popular I think. A number of the high level teachers at the conservatoires in London and other places have Colourstrings training
December 7, 2022, 1:05 PM · George-
Many days I would be glad to hear my daughter has developed a sudden passion for engineering:) Any form of the arts is a pretty difficult path. I chose working in the visual arts myself, and have reaped all the benefits- and the costs. What I said before was a very rough outline of the lower edge of where a kid needs to be at 11 or 12 to access (and succeed) at one of the top violin programs at college level. It's much sadder to me to read here of a passionate kid who was never told the current level of playing and is only made aware as they go to apply to schools as Junior or Senior.
One of the few gifts of COVID is that there are great teachers and resources online. The last couple years my daughter has played with kids from around the world. Through the web she had online masterclasses with pedagogues she never would have met, including playing a masterclass for Midori, among others. Check Amy Beth Horman's Violin Breakfast out if you haven't heard of it. Great teacher, perfect for your daughter's age. We were unlucky with time zones. (takes place in San Francisco) Violin Breakfast always fell during the school day or on weekends conflicted with orchestra. But maybe it would work for you.
I was reading an article in the Times about Asian students being advised to avoid "stereotypical" extracurriculars in their applications and essays, it even mentioned Violin. The article (LA Times?) was about anti-Asian bias in college acceptance. (My daughter is Asian)
Edited: December 8, 2022, 12:49 AM · I can only talk about Germany, but in the 90s, I spent a high school year in Portland, OR, in a host family.

I was very surprised by the level of repertoire that was common among my American friends. I played in the Portland Youth Philharmonic, and what you have called “the Bruch level” was normal for the younger participants. The ones in high school were playing much more advanced pieces.

Of course, this was an ambitious youth orchestra, BUT: the players were almost all from one town, and there were many.
In Germany, the high quality youth orchestras are from a whole federal state. And only some players play at that high level. The German youth orchestras can be very good, but in an orchestra, you don’t need that much virtuosity, after all.
In every country, there are prodigies. But what I found in America, the standard level of the “normal” kids was higher. Many of those didn’t pursue a musical career. I wasn’t able to play the big concertos at 16, but I still made it into that orchestra. I was not a prodigy, but had much support from ambitious parents. I am the only violinist in my age of my German town that made it into a professional orchestra.

I found the competition much higher, in Portland. That youth orchestra held auditions for everyone, every year, and based on that, you got your position. This is fair, but not easy. In Germany, they often want to pamper the kids and don’t apply any pressure. But sometimes, the result is, that the bullies become concert master because of their personality rather than playing.

I didn’t have good enough teachers, especially when I was very young. This would only have been possible if my parents had taken me to other towns, just for elementary level. Plus, they were not violinists. It is very hard to find good children’s education, here. When you say you want a high level, you are bashed because you are the evil mom who only wants to put pressure on their poor children.

When my daughter was 4, she was interested in ballet. I did NOT find a ballet class, that was really teaching rather than only having the kids run around. When she was 7, she quit, because it was boring. Somewhere, there ARE the good schools, but you won’t find them. It is so much regarded as evil to put pressure on kids that it is forgotten that it can be also just fun to actually improve.

When I read posts on this forum, I still see the repertoire that you find normal for kids. This is on a much higher standard than here. Here, there are only very few ambitious kids that normally plan a musical career that you can compare.

The result is that only the very much intrinsically dedicated make it to become professionals, here. If a kid is not showing ambition, at an early age, no parents or teachers push them, so some reach 15/16 years and suddenly get really into music making, and too many of them have to realize that it is simply too late for a career in that field.

In my German orchestra, only a small fraction of the violin audition candidates are German. We have so many orchestras, here, and a great university level education, but we are completely used to the fact that we educate and hire people from other countries, mainly.

That said, this is not true for brass players! Whatever they need and do, it seems to work well, in Germany.

Edited: December 8, 2022, 4:09 AM · I'm puzzled.
Fischer talks of international-standard and Juilliard and so on.
If the 100,000 violin virtuosos in the USA were that good, they'd build two dozen more Juilliards to accommodate them and milk them of their money.
The Royal Schools of Music require technical ability and musicality in combination.
No-one wants technicality without musicality, and the British perception of Suzuki is that it aims to churn out robots. If its primary aim is sociability rather than musicality, then that's all well and good, but don't let's pretend that musicality is an automatic outcome of sociability. Group lessons are for the huge numbers of people who have no especial musicality. BUT social music is nonetheless a great thing. That's why I'm happy to belong to a uke group and an intermediate string orchestra and why I was unhappy playing CG on my own.

So how do you define ability, is the question?


The 5 Categories of Beginners thread mentioned the <1% figure.
My IQ is in the <1%-ile. But that's no big deal - I come from a town of 100K, so maybe 1,000 people there have my IQ or higher. The more interesting stat is that the town has far fewer than 1,000 musicians. Although that must be qualified by the observation that for the majority of us our musicality is such that we will need to practise for at least 10 years to get anywhere, and I can understand why a person with that musicality would say "what's the point of all that work, when I can make 10 times the money in IT?"
So maybe if that is the definition of "(potential) musician" my home town does contain more than 1,000?

Edited: December 8, 2022, 5:11 AM · "If the 100,000 violin virtuosos in the USA were that good, they'd build two dozen more Juilliards to accommodate them and milk them of their money."

Or not, because the US seems to train a lot of kids to an impressively high level who have no interest whatsoever in pursuing a professional career in music and simply do not bother to audition for music schools. The competitiveness is often just part of the college admission arms race. Many literally never play again after they graduate from high school, even if they were at or above Bruch level at one point. (That said, many also try to continue playing but find at some point in college that they don't have time.)

Hence, my comment about having a lot of doctors who used to be really good at playing a musical instrument in high school. A small fraction of them are still active musicians.

Also, whatever the merits of Suzuki may be, it ends well before Bruch level, and most of the best students transition out of Suzuki by Book 5 or 6. And I haven't heard of group lessons continuing beyond the earlier stages anyway.

Edited: December 8, 2022, 4:06 AM · Matthew:

Regarding "stereotypical" extracurriculars... I saw a study of Asian-American college applicants several years ago that suggested that those who list violin or piano on their applications actually do worse than non-musicians, but those who list any instrument other than violin or piano do better than non-musicians. But I'm not sure how much of this is the result of stereotype; I suspect at least some of the same effect may apply to non-Asians as well. Violin and piano are popular instruments, and it's hard to distinguish oneself from a large mass of other violinists or pianists. Meanwhile they take time away from pursuing other extracurriculars where it might take less effort to stand out -- note that the violin's learning curve means it takes a whole lot of time and effort just to reach mediocrity.

Edited: December 8, 2022, 4:10 AM · "the US seems to train a lot of kids to an impressively high level who have no interest whatsoever in pursuing a professional career in music."

This takes us back to this thread: - https://www.violinist.com/discussion/thread.cfm?page=6087

Before we can answer it, we need to understand how much cultural context it contains.

But also we still aren't defining "impressively high level" of what, music or note-production?

Edited: December 8, 2022, 6:02 AM · Music. Your image of Suzuki seems to be based mainly on what it looks like in the beginning stages of learning.
Edited: December 8, 2022, 4:40 AM · Actually, I don't want to come across as a hair-splitter about what music really is and what it isn't.

I remember many years ago mentioning to someone that playing the piano merely involved moving your fingers up and down, and anyone can do that, so the mystery is not how some people can play the piano, it's why so few people play the piano.

Some think music is about muscles (i.e. I've seen recommendations that wind players use manual typewriters to develop finger strength - I'm not convinced about that one!), but I think really it's about training neural connections between brain and tendons.

So probably in the long run I agree with you, Andrew, that it is all about the college admission arms race, which simply doesn't exist in the UK (to the same extent - I last went to college in 1978 before anything similar existed, so maybe I don't know how bad it is nowadays). No, scratch that - all that extra-curricular stuff - I'm pretty sure it doesn't exist at all in the UK.

December 8, 2022, 5:57 AM · “ No-one wants technicality without musicality, and the British perception of Suzuki is that it aims to churn out robots.”

Gordon, this isn’t just in England. And this perception is largely race based - hence we have the likes of Harvard consistently marking Asian students low on personality scores (never having met them), when people that have actually interviewed them do not.

Suzuki’s core tenet, as I understand it, is that music and music education should be joyful. That seems antithetical to the claim that it only produces technical proficiency.

December 8, 2022, 7:15 AM · I can picture a child who is technically proficient, not very musical, but joyful, and that is not a bad thing for a child to be.
Edited: December 8, 2022, 8:21 AM · The racial element sounds right, Sue. And the article I mentioned, Andrew, spoke to the issue of bias in personality scores and such mentioned.. Wish I could find a link or had saved the article.
We live very rurally, my daughter learned with Suzuki books with a teacher that was Suzuki trained.
But she never had the group play-ins until we started attending camps the she was 7 or 8. I can see where people might see the 100 kids on stage many playing Twinkle somewhat mechanically and have that reaction.
My experience was as the kids moved into more advanced rep the musicality advanced also.
I remember kids standing in smaller circles playing their hearts out with each other, no adults around.

What I did find difficult about the Suzuki camp was there was definitely a cultish vibe amongst the people running it. Some of them seemed very much to have drunk the Kool-aid. And an insider service to the
kids who were tied to teachers or the host program, buried just beneath the kumbaya progressivism that was espoused. Despite this, my daughter had a great time, made some great friends and still meets up with a few kids from Suzuki camp at more advanced summer programs.

Edited: December 8, 2022, 8:51 AM · I don't know about racism, but in the UK there is no group performance of the twinkle-twinkle kind, unless you count the small xylophone ensemble we had in infant school. I think by nature any group of 100 small kids playing twinkle is going to sound robotic, no matter what their race, and it is a phenomenon completely unknown in the UK, which is why it becomes known as the Suzuki phenomenon.

But it's maybe a string thing - when I was a kid I was on a piano scholarship. My oboe lessons were provided by the school, but I was alone. Violin lessons at the school may have been group sessions for all I know.

In a country with 20 times the population of the UK, those groups could be 20 times the size. America's population is 4 or 5 times that of the UK.

December 8, 2022, 10:03 AM · Benedetti Sessions? https://youtu.be/2FoEE8vztmU?t=48
December 8, 2022, 10:04 AM · There are some really amazing Irish fiddle players, Cajun fiddle players, jazz violinists, Texas swing fiddle players, etc etc etc, making music, by ear, in small ensembles, that is really difficult to play, and impossible not to want to get up and dance to. I don’t know, but maybe they’re having more fun than someone practicing indoors, alone, striving to master Bruch in order to get into a college. Maybe they are learning from each other. I’m a classical student, and have more than once been humbled by these “folk” musicians. There are many paths to having music be a wonderful part of one’s life. Even if you pay the bills by being a computer programmer, or auto mechanic, or doctor, as some of my most talented fiddle friends do.
December 8, 2022, 12:13 PM · Gordon,
I think you are conflating a couple comments. The generalized racism that Asians are technicians
or robotic being related to attitudes about Suzuki is one. I think, also, in the early years of the rise of young Asian soloists beginning to win competitions and such this bias was common.
The other comment I made had nothing to do with race. I was agreeing, seeing 100 kids playing Twinkle together, some of whom are there reluctantly, can seem a bit robotic. If and as they progress, I don't think that reflects anything. Having said that, I never found the group play-ins to be the most valuable part of the Suzuki system, and my daughter didn't do them at home. The most valuable thing being learning the instrument and music at a young age in much of the same way you learn to speak and communicate. And the books and recordings.
And Elizabeth, I don't think anyone in the discussion is setting up any kind of hierarchy. The thread is about student ability and level in the UK versus other places. In my experience. Most parents I meet are following the kid's interest and saying, "Well, for all this money we are spending, if they don't choose to go on in Music, at least the exhibited work ethic and striving and ability to play will help them in their college applications." "And they will always have music in their lives, maybe be the physician or techy playing in the local orchestra."
And back to Suzuki and it's influence, if a kid starts at 5, it's not really that extraordinary that they would play Bruch at 12, is it? Not really a Suzuki advocate, the early start is the thing.
December 8, 2022, 1:12 PM · I'm not saying that the students themselves are consciously motivated by trying to get into a prestigious college, by the way. More that, generally speaking, there's a certain culture of competitiveness in extracurriculars, especially in communities where college is expected. In music it manifests itself in things like annual seating auditions in youth and school orchestras, or high school All-State orchestras, which encourage students to compete with their peers. On the parent side, college is a big motivator for parents to pay for lessons and sometimed to go to great lengths to get their children to top-notch teachers (e.g. driving long distances to lessons).
December 9, 2022, 5:54 AM · My impression is that the USA has a better pathway to excellent technique at a young age.

Most of the UK's violin teaching is wrapped up with the education system - provision in schools or local hubs. In schools, it's always second fiddle to "actual lessons" and is aimed somewhat at the child getting their GCSE - of which performance is 1/3 of the marks and you need a Grade 6 (ie, intermediate) level for the highest possible mark. In the local hubs, instrumental playing is at least the priority but it's usually more about getting the volume of primary school kids in than developing any of them to go to music college.

The fact there is quite good access to these things probably means that a bunch of parents who might otherwise be on the look out for great private teachers are happy with the provision they're offered.

The definition of 'success' is also achieving ABRSM Grade 8, which is music like the Beethoven Romance in F and the 2nd movement of Bruch. If you have that on your UCAS form to apply for university - then you've ticked the violin box! Indeed, it's also the qualification that conservatoires ask for, because it's the only one widely available that is at all relevant (though obviously they select on audition).

So there's a decent system set up to getting kids to Grade 8 by 18, and hardly any system for getting them to perform Tchaikovsky by 18, unless you're one of the very very small handful of parents who will go to the hassle of sending your child to Saturday lessons at a conservatoire's junior programme.

In the USA, I get the impression;
- "college" applications for non-music disciplines look more at e.g. 'all state' orchestra where there are limited places, not an exam.
- also, the whole overall approach to college admissions is really different in the USA, the process in the UK is much more standardised and less focused on the things rich parents can buy for their kids.
- public provision of music education in the US is on the whole more absent or worse. I'm sure there are some worthy exceptions. But if you're a parent in the USA who wants your child to learn the violin then you probably have to find a private teacher, and if you really care you're probably likely to find a better private teacher...

December 10, 2022, 8:28 AM · Thats a good point Chris. Most counties here have a music service that provides instrumental lessons in schools. But my experience with that was not good at all. I am still unlearning some of the not so good stuff 13 years later...

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