Push through the book or practice more on each piece?

December 3, 2017, 6:52 PM · Hi everybody, I'm an adult learner and I started learning violin about 6 months ago, and I'm already at the end of Suzuki book 2.
I've been taking classes at a local music school, and I'm just not so sure about my teacher's methods. He gave me about 1-2 weeks on each piece, and I was feeling good about the pace until today because I read that beginner usually spend 2 years on Suzuki book 1 and 2, which is a lot more than what I did... Now I'm questioning if spending more time on each piece would be better than quickly going through all of them? And also I'm trying to learn vibrato now, is it too early to start?
Please give me some advice, thank you very much!

Replies (18)

Edited: December 3, 2017, 7:10 PM · It is impossible to say if you are going too fast without hearing you play. Keep in mind that adult students often learn faster than kids in the beginning (assuming they have time to practice) because they are able to intellectually engage with what they are doing in a way that most kids aren't ready for.
Two Suzuki books in 6 months does seem fast to me (most of my students take a year+ on book 1, usually around a year on book 2, and occasionally as fast as 6 months on book 3) but I find a wide variation in how fast students progress due to practice time, maturity, and other factors.
If you are playing your pieces well, I think learning vibrato is fine at this stage (I usually start teaching vibrato at the beginning of book 2 actually).
December 3, 2017, 7:10 PM · Take it slow in the beginning. Learning the basics well will allow you to rapidly accelerate in the future. If you develop bad habits due to rushing, you will be stuck with them for years to come. I have been playing the violin for 7-8ish years and I still struggle with a correct bow hold and vibrato because I rushed the basics.

Taking the beginning stage slowly is so very important to proficiency late on!

Edited: December 3, 2017, 7:37 PM · An adult beginner who is practicing every day will generally not need a whole year for each Suzuki book. But two books in six months is brisk. Definitely do not rush the beginning stages because you will not get the fundamentals right. The aim is to learn to play the violin properly.

There are lots of ways to analyze your progress. Here are a few:

(1) Ask your teacher whether you're really learning what you should be, or whether there are weaknesses that will start holding you back as you try to advance.

(2) Try playing some of the earlier Suzuki pieces from Book 1. Do they seem a lot easier? Can you play them better now than you could then?

(3) Make a video of yourself playing two or three of the tunes that you feel you know well. How do you think you sound? Are you playing in tune? With dynamic contrast? With articulation? Is your tone good? Is your rhythm even? Your tempo constant? Is your playing musical or mechanical? Is your posture elegant and your movement graceful? Or awkward and stressful?

December 3, 2017, 8:26 PM · Darn. My screen did something and my reply disappeared.

How well are you learning the skills in each piece? How much review are you doing? How much are you practicing? How is your intonation? How is your positioning? How long are your lessons? How easy or difficult is it to learn each new piece?

How well you are learning is the issue, not the speed. 6 months does seem fast to learn how to hold violin and bow, place fingers, make a decent sound and learn 29 pieces. But, I seem to recall having an adult that did learn at that rate or close to it.

IMO it is not too soon to be learning vibrato.

Edited: December 3, 2017, 11:16 PM · 2 books in six months seems a little quick. I too started about 6 months ago and reached book 1 Perpetual Motion about a week ago. Everyone learns at different speeds and have different abilities- so it is hard to generalize what your training speed should be.

Still by my experience, it is a little quick, or I'm terribly slow. As for vibrato, I've have started pre-exercises.

December 4, 2017, 5:43 AM · Suzuki teachers that I know teach shifting before vibrato. Shifting starts near the start of Book 3 with Humoresque in the Suzuki program.
December 4, 2017, 6:41 AM · Sounds like you are cracking through the pieces quickly.

What matters isn't the rate of progressing to the new pieces, but the amount of intentional practice you are doing. How often are you really working on a particular point slowly and in detail? How often are you checking your pitch against a piano or a tuner?

Particularly with Suzuki, "more pieces" does not necessarily mean "more progress" - Suzuki can encourage a race mentality where people (pupils, teachers, parents) try to get through the repertoire so they can say "I'm on book X!" without regard to how well the pieces in book X are being played... if your teacher is inexperienced, or simply not very good, they may well be used to that kind of approach!

December 4, 2017, 8:08 AM · Suzuki just rolled in his grave.
December 4, 2017, 8:43 AM · I generally teach vibrato when the student is comfortable in 3rd position. I think most teachers do as well. It's because the motion is a little easier to learn when the hand is against the body of the violin.
December 4, 2017, 9:09 AM · There's no set speed for working through the books, although the "race mentality" is definitely a thing. There's such a wide range, it is difficult to compare though. I get plenty of students who show up for a trial and say "I'm in book x!" and their bow strokes, shifting, vibrato, posture, etc. are non-existent...to the point where it's apparent that they might have learned the music, but not how to play the violin.

My wife has little kids who start with her at age 4, take an average of a year or so per book, and reach Mozart 3 by the time they are around age 10-11. In the grand scheme of things, they're still considered relatively advanced by local school orchestra standards. Then there's the ones who start at age 4, are playing Vivaldi A Minor at age 5, then Mozart 3 at age 6, and into things like the Wieniawski Scherzo Tarantella at age 7. They're exceptional (but not prodigies), and an absolute delight to work with. Regardless of level, these kids are working on the Tonalization every day, and are enjoying the opportunities they have in music.

Edited: December 4, 2017, 9:26 AM · I found that people with prior music reading experience may progress faster than average if they have (and use) "good ears" and are physically "competent." I had an adult cello student (with prior woodwind and sight-singing experience) who with good ears and physicality got to book 7 in 10 months. She was just doing everything well - and then she moved to the other side of the country. Her boyfriend who was taking violin lessons from me at the same time and also had woodwind experience (but not as much) and no singing experience made it to book 4 in the same time, but like most adult violin beginners had some physical awkwardness on the instrument.

I'm not sure why (maybe it's like orthodontic braces - who had them and who didn't), but I think it is usually possible to spot an adult violin player who did not grow up with one under the chin. Cello, on the other hand, fits humans so naturally that if someone is playing one reasonably you can't tell that they didn't start as a child.

Edited: December 4, 2017, 6:24 PM · Comparison with others is necessary for young profession-oriented violinists, since they have to have clear sense where they stand in fierce competitions. It is absolutely no positive value for adult learners to compare themselves with others.

Sammy, you maybe a very good learner and if your teacher thinks you are ready to move on, you should go with your teacher's advice because no one here has the chance to know your situation better than your teacher does. There are many valid approaches in teaching violin. Violin learning requires a lot of trust and patience. Second-guessing one's violin teacher is unproductive, unless one has clear evidence that one's teacher is doing something wrong, which is not evident based on what you've told us. To be fair to both you and your teacher, I encourage you to express your concerns directly to him/her, if you haven't done so.

December 4, 2017, 8:39 PM · I disagree that there's no value for adult students to compare themselves to others.

If progress is overly slow compared to others, questions should be asked about why the student isn't progressing -- poor practice habits? poor teaching? student is just slow at learning things in general?

December 4, 2017, 8:52 PM · Lydia I agree with you in principle. My observation, however, is that the most likely outcome is just getting discouraged.
Edited: December 5, 2017, 12:46 AM · Well, getting discouraged by comparing with others is a problem that underlies my principle of do-not-compare-with-others. Most unhappiness in life comes from comparing with others. Often such comparisons are not fair ones: we know pretty much everything about ourselves but very little about others in terms of personal history, family/educational/financial/social backgrounds, etc.

"If progress is overly slow compared to others, questions should be asked about why the student isn't progressing -- poor practice habits? poor teaching? student is just slow at learning things in general?"

First question: Can an adult learner fairly choose someone else to compare with? Unlikely. Everyone is unique in their starting point, goals, commitment, resources and time available, etc. Don't get fooled by the color of other side of grass.

Second question: Even if we can choose someone close enough to make a fair comparison, is it necessary to compare in order to learn about our progress? I would argue that it is totally unnecessary to compare for such purpose. All we need is self-awareness, which doesn't have to involve what/how others are doing. We compete with ourselves by vigorously self-examining our mindset, our practice, our habits, our learning environment and educational guidance/support, etc.

What's more, comparing with others, instead of self-awareness, may even slow our progress. We might stop pushing ourselves if we see others around us appear to be overly slow compared to our progress.

So, don't compare. Just be self-aware and self-compassionate, focus, work hard, and be the best we can. Happy ever after :)

December 5, 2017, 4:44 AM · Everything we do should sound nice, to ourselves and to others.

If we love music and the violin, that is...

Edited: December 5, 2017, 6:51 AM · Getting a decent vibrato and fluent shifting (the two tend to go together) is a sign that relaxation in the left arm and hand is as it should be, and in that case the bowing arm will tend to follow suit if it hasn't already.

In reply to the OPs' specific question I'd say to get a piece to the stage where you'd be prepared to include it in a short informal recital before going on to the next. Having said that, my own teacher wouldn't necessary chose the next piece in the book but perhaps one from the next book, or something from outside the book syllabus, such as a movement from Dvorak's Sonatina Op 100.

Edited: December 5, 2017, 7:31 AM · I have thoughts about this that go both ways, but I think it depends on the student's level of playing. On the one hand, working on every piece to "performance level" is one way to go. On the other hand, after getting your basic level sufficient for others to enjoy the sounds you make and then reading through pieces and getting to a point where you can play through them and play as many as you can is another.

I do not think that being at the level of Suzuki Book 2 is generally sufficient for most people to just zip through whatever follows. However after finishing Book 4 a thoughtful student might have sufficient ability to begin to read through advancing stuff and improve technique at the same time as developing into one "hell of a sight-reader," a skill unlikely to develop if you just play the same things until you can do it while watching TV or reading a book.

But I think it is important to have a firm grounding in basic technique before taking off ("walk before you can fly"). My own early years on violin were pitiful (in my opinion); from my lessons from age 4 - 11 I probably only got to the level of Book 4 - and then out of frustration I quit by age 12. When I resumed on my own a year later I started on various "encore/salon" pieces, added to my 3rd position ability, learned vibrato, worked through Handel sonatas, some Beethoven, Mozart, the Mendelssohn and Beethoven concertos and read through Tchaikovsky and Brahms. Was CM of my HS orchestra for 3 years - etc. 15 years later I went on to CM a community orchestra for 20 years and to enjoy chamber music for the next 55 years - and still counting. And in my opinion, most of that was due to the sight-reading ability I developed by working on things I was not really ready to play.

If someone was showing the ability to become a musical superstar - I would not recommend this approach. But if your goal is to enjoy being a successful amateur - it can work.

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