Group lessons vs. private lessons

Misako Sato said: Aug 24, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
3 posts

Hi, I’m currently working in a school that is going to start a Suzuki violin program this fall. The director of the school want the pre-twinklers to have a 1 hr group class every week and a 30 min private lesson every 3 weeks. I strongly recommended to her that the young 3-5 yr old children really should have a private lesson every week and group classes every other week or even every 3 wekks. She didn’t agree that they would learn as much. Do you think it’s possible to have successful results with private lessons only every 3 weeks? I heard that research shows that young children learn better in a group setting, do you think that would be the case for learning violin as well?

André said: Aug 25, 2012
André AugensteinViolin, Piano
55 posts

Misako Sato lady for sure,because it was just me
and it worked fine,although when i arrived in adulthood
i have private lessons to improve my performance.

Violin Student(International Suzuki Association) in Germany 1987
Violin teacher (International Suzuki Association) in Dublin 1995

Janie said: Aug 25, 2012
 Violin, Recorder, Viola
Glenwood Springs, CO
16 posts

You can certainly make it work, but it will not be easy. You will have to modify a lot of Suzuki principles to be successful. Your results might not be a good as you expect if you are used to having private lessons every week. The pitfalls might be class sizes that are too large, students who play only during lessons and not practice at home, and parents who are not actively involved in the child’s learning. If you can overcome these obstacles, you should be able to build a successful program.


Barb said: Aug 26, 2012
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

Hi Misako,
You might be interested to see this discussion and follow the links there describing a school program in Alaska:

Best wishes!

Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Jocelyn Crosby said: Aug 29, 2012
Jocelyn Crosby
Suzuki Association Member
Lancaster, PA
8 posts

You can always suggest to parents to purchase additional private lessons. Just a thought.

Good luck!

Linda Louise Ford said: Aug 29, 2012
Linda Louise Ford
Suzuki Association Member
Rochester, NY
16 posts

I would have an assistant in the room to adjust the children as the group is led so that each child is using the best posture. As the leader, one is not able to get to each child timely and also lead the group too. Interesting. Also one could cycle the children for part of the group as seen in the Paul Rolland DVD . Go see . It is a very interesting way to give individual time in a group setting.


Mary said: Aug 29, 2012
 39 posts

My son’s school’s Suzuki violin program is very similar to what you described. There is a 30 minute group lesson 2x per week and a 20 minute individual lesson that usually occurs every 3 weeks. The beginning Suzuki class of pre-twinklers usually consisted of 5-6 students who were in kindergarten or first grade. For these beginning students, a parent had to attend all classes and a monthly education workshop usually held in the evening. After the first year, parent attendance became optional.

The pre-twinklers did learn in the group class setting because the numbers remained small enough for the teacher to pay attention to each student during the group class and parents were in attendance to take notes and ask questions. Progress seemed to slow the next year because parent attendance was no longer mandatory. Some parents did show up to their child’s individual and group lessons. Some parents also arranged to pay for additional private lessons with the teacher outside of the school and some of these students progressed more quickly. But for those students who were only doing lessons through school, they progressed pretty slowly. Many took 2-3 years to get through Book 1. I don’t think this is necessarily a problem if the children are happy playing and still getting a good violin foundation.

To wrap up, I think what mattered most with the pre-Twinklers was parental involvement and not individual or group classes. After all, if the students do not have good home support, good practices will not occur. I would also add that group classes did have a positive effect on the children and parents by creating a nice peer group for all. Students and parents did learn from just watching the teacher work with different students. Even so, I think the group classes for this age group should not exceed 30-45 minutes given the children’s attention span and stamina.

I hope this helps.

Misako Sato said: Aug 30, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
3 posts

So you said that your son’s Suzuki school program consisted of more group lessons than private lessons. Does that mean the teacher would teach new techniques or concepts during the group lessons? Can that work for non pre-twinklers group lessons? I had the impression that pieces and new techniques were taught one on one during the private lessons and then during the group lessons, it was more focused on reinforcing that piece or technique with different games and activities. I am also asking because he director of my school wants me to write up a curriculum for the group lessons and I wasn’t sure how to go about it.


Mary said: Aug 31, 2012
 39 posts

Right, the teacher introduced the Twinkle variations during the group class and that did work well since all of the students more or less progressed at the same level. Post-Twinkles the children were divided up according to where they were in the book. Class sizes varied from the smallest class with only 3 or 4 children (book 2/3) to the largest around 8 or 9 (mid book 1). I think the 30 minute classes were broken up more or less as follows:

Early Book 1
Mid Book 1
Late Book 1 (minuets and up)
Early book 2
Book 2/3

For the kids who were right after the Twinkles, she could still more or less introduce the next set of songs pretty easily as a group and work on certain techniques such as circle bow for Song of the Wind or up bows for O Come Little Children. I think where it became harder to teach this way was with the next group (mid book 1) because at that point students were progressing at different rates such as some children getting very stuck on Perpetual Motion and others getting it right away. I’m guessing the different rates of progress resulted from the varied quality and frequency of home practices and listening to the CD. She did move students up to the next group if they were progressing rapidly. Generally, the class would consist of doing review which all of the children could do. Around the middle of the lesson, she would introduce new material—usually starts with reviewing what was taught in the previous class and then adding a few measures or a single phrase depending on how the new material was going over. She would have students who were not yet playing that song sit while the other children played. She tried to make that part of the class last about 5-10 minutes so that the non-playing students wouldn’t get too bored. She’d often give the non-playing students a job like asking them to rate the playing kids’ performance or to pay attention if everyone had their thumbs bent or something like that to keep them engaged. This worked better on some days then others. She also sprinkled in technique games that all of the children could do regardless of where they were in the repertoire such as hopping the bow from tip to frog or practicing a circle bow without making the bow plop and bounce around on the strings. And she always ended with at least 1 or 2 review songs that everyone could play.

The private class allowed the students to play their working piece. She’d refine the technique and introduce new material. But more often it was about correcting or fixing issues that she wouldn’t have time to do in the group class. She also wrote out assignments in their music book so that they’d remember what they were supposed to correct at home. She often asked parents to show up to the private class if a child was struggling and many parents did come, but many also couldn’t because of work schedules.

So as you can imagine progress was definitely slow going this route. The experience could still be fun because the children were with their violin peers and were playing songs together. Still, some children did drop out. But I think because slow progress was the norm, I think most didn’t have a sense that they were “slow.” My son’s school begins formal instrument instruction for band and orchestra in grade 4. So at that point, many of the Suzuki kids joined orchestra or sometimes switched to a band instrument and left the Suzuki program altogether. And even though many of these kids barely made it into book 2, they were definitely ahead of the 4th grade beginners.

I hope this answers your questions.

Misako Sato said: Sep 3, 2012
Suzuki Association Member
3 posts

Thank you. This definitely helped a lot.

Jenifer said: Sep 6, 2012
Jenifer NoffkeViolin, Voice, Piano, Viola
Melbourne, FL
7 posts

Also read “Public and Private Twinkles: They Are Not So Different!” by Lisa Vosdoganes. You can find it at or in the official publication, American Suzuki Journal, Volume 4 #4. Lisa is a K-5 Suzuki teacher at Parker Elementary Magnet School. I teach primarily private violin lessons and her advice was extremely helpful and enlightening! I went back through, highlighted key points and then read the article again. Great job Lisa!

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