Violin student wanting to learn viola

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Leslie said: Dec 16, 2012
Leslie ThackerayInstitute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Taylorsville, UT
26 posts

I have a violin student in Book 2 who wants to learn viola in addition to violin and asked me to teach her. Any tips? The Suzuki pieces are basically the same. Do I start with twinkles and move up? I know I need to do the notereading different. What would I do different between the viola and violin lessons?

Leslie Thackeray
Make Practicing Fun!
www.thepracticeshoppe.com
www.thacksuzukistudio.com

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Dec 16, 2012
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

Leslie,

Though the books are nearly the same (not exactly), and the instruments look the same except for size, the approach to the two instruments is quite different. The viola is not just a large violin played a fifth lower. Because of the thicker body, wider dimensions and thicker strings, the bow is applied differently on the strings, requiring much greater weight in order to draw a rich, full sound. The same weight on the bow as used for violin, produces on the viola a whistling, ghost-like sound. This is the first challenge to overcome, requiring a different touch to produce a pleasing, gratifying sound. And tone is what viola is all about!

To play in tune on the viola, especially 3rd and 4th fingers in first position, the left hand must make certain adjustments for a healthy hand position that will not cause strain. These positions are different than what is needed for violin. This last point cannot be underscored enough. Too many violists who have transferred from violin end up developing (causing themselves) tendonitis in the left hand, because of incorrect stretching, reaching, straining, lack of technical understanding and inadequate rebalancing of all parts of the body including the left hand. I have seen fine violists have their career derailed due to tendonitis, leaving the player unable to play again.

Unless you are also trained as a violist (in which case you already are aware of what I am writing!), you should first get training from a professional violist before you either start a child on viola, or transfer a beginner violin player to the viola. Otherwise you may set bad habits in place that will be difficult to retrain, and worse, will cause future physical harm to the young person.

Wendy Caron Zohar

Merietta Oviatt said: Dec 17, 2012
Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

I couldn’t agree with Wendy more! Don’t look at the viola like a big violin, think of it as a whole other instrument—like cello. Just because you can teach violin doesn’t mean that you can teach cello, and most people wouldn’t assume to be able to. Viola should be viewed the same. You can really teach bad habits and cause later injuries if you don’t know exactly what you are doing. Far too frequently people’s careers are ended early due to injury on viola. Please receive quite a bit of training from a professional violist, perhaps a college professor or trained pedagogue, before beginning to teach the viola. Again, the points that Wendy made are right on and only scratch the surface on the differences between the two instruments. Where you are in Utah, I would try Roberta Zalkind at the U, Claudine Bigelow at BYU, Brant Bayless or Christopher McKellar with the Utah Symphony.

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
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Leslie said: Dec 18, 2012
Leslie ThackerayInstitute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Taylorsville, UT
26 posts

I plan to get trained at institute this summer.

Leslie Thackeray
Make Practicing Fun!
www.thepracticeshoppe.com
www.thacksuzukistudio.com

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Dec 18, 2012
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

Leslie,

Summer institute training in one of the Suzuki books, as you know, is an intense week of preparation to be able to understand, synthesize (make it your own) and then teach the material in that book, for that instrument. An institute course, five days long, with many student participants, cannot be expected to prepare the adult student teacher how to properly play that instrument, and also contrast between techniques involved in teaching another apparently similar but radically different instrument. (Would it be okay for someone to take an institute course in flute book 1 just because they already know the staff, and maybe have played a little clarinet, and thereby feel qualified to teach little children, if they did not play the flute already proficiently? or take a course in cello and be able/qualified to teach it, if they couldn’t play cello, but only think they can because they play violin, and after all, cello is also a string instrument?)

Someone can correct me if I’m wrong, as I’m new here, in case this is a readily accepted standard in the Suzuki community. However, it seems to me that to achieve SAA registration in an instrument at the level of any book, teachers need to come to institute already playing well and understanding the techniques required for the course they’ll be taking, if they expect to maintain top standards of teaching, and afterward to be able impart those impeccable techniques and spirit of the instrument to the children they teach.

Anyway, the best time to learn more about playing the viola is now, I should think!
Good luck with it!

Wendy

Wendy Caron Zohar

Lori Bolt said: Dec 19, 2012
Lori Bolt
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
San Clemente, CA
226 posts

Wendy & Leslie ~ I believe that piano teachers are required to submit proof of their proficiency in order to take Teacher Training for the different book levels. It must be the same for all instruments. Check the website for details. Suzuki Institutes don’t teach how to play the instruments.

Lori Bolt

Carol Gwen said: Dec 19, 2012
Carol Gwen Kiefer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Washington Crossing, PA
75 posts

Leslie,
Violin and viola auditions are interchangeable through Book 4. Violin and viola courses are interchangeable through Book 3. Book 4 viola is the prerequisite for Book 5 viola.—from the SAA web site, but you probably know that by now.
Like everything in music there are different approaches to the viola.

If you’re looking for opinions- you can provide an excellent example for your student by learning a healthy technique from a violist who teaches well. No need to add to the number of injured violists- the technique is that much different. As a beginner your student knows the repertoire so technique and demonstrating technique will probably be your focus.

I enjoy teaching viola to violinists! If you need help teaching the clef ask the institute instructor. Your student could start learning the clef with music theory. Does your student read g clef well?

Have fun, and Happy Holidays!

Wendy Caron Zohar said: Dec 19, 2012
Wendy Caron Zohar
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Ann Arbor, MI
94 posts

Carol and Leslie,

I teach viola to many violinists, and actually I have a deep conviction that every violinist, at some point, should learn to play viola well, for many reasons, including:

  1. It makes us (violinists) better musicians.
  2. It teaches us to play with a deep, rich sound, which we can take back to our violin playing.
  3. It gives us a perspective on listening to the inner voices in quartet and orchestral playing.
  4. It can make us smarter to be able to play music in more clefs and be able to switch back and forth! :)
  5. Viola is fun and the nearest step to playing the ‘cello, so we can play the Bach ‘Cello Suites, which is I think every violinist’s secret dream!
  6. It enlarges our repertoire to include even more awesome music!
  7. More and more; you can name them too!

All that being said, I wonder if there is an optiimum age or stage for a student of violin to learn to play the viola. If the violin L and R hand technique is not yet settled, and intonation is still a problem, I doubt whether it’s a good time to switch or add viola. Because the violin is smaller and more navigable, I have heard the advice from other teachers to learn as much and go as far as possible on the violin, before making the switch. I would seriously advise waiting until the violin student’s technique is pretty solid before introducing the viola.

It would be different I suppose if a student is really unhappy, or even feeling miserable on the violin, and dreams only of playing in that deeper viola voice. It may be a matter of personality, needing to bring out a different part of one’s character, and if the violin does not fulfill that, perhaps in such a case, even if the child is not all “set”, it might be a good idea to switch right away. It can also be a question of size, of hands, arms, distance between shoulders. There are so many factors to consider.

What do others think about the matter of timing?

Wendy

Wendy Caron Zohar

Jennifer Visick said: Dec 20, 2012
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

Without negating the cautions already stated…

Most children should be sized for a fractional viola exactly the same as they are sized for a fractional violin. So, the string length, and contact point, of a child’s viola, and that same child’s violin, should be the same. Children should not play violas that are bigger than their violins until they have reached their “adult” sized arms & neck & shoulders.

If the child’s viola is deeper (I mean if the ribs are taller) than their violin, then the shoulder rest & chinrest should be lowered and changed accordingly, so that the height that is being “filled” by a child’s chinrest, violin, & shoulder rest is the same as the height being filled by a child’s chinrest, viola, & shoulder rest.

In short, a child learning viola and violin together should not encounter any extra physical strain from a longer instrument until their bodies have finished growing. The amount of weight needed to pull more sound out of the lower pitched viola strings should be the main difference—there is no need to introduce longer strings & thus, left hand strain issues.

A child who is interested in the viola for it’s sound quality should be allowed to play it, with care. A child can learn good intonation and left and right hand technique on a viola just as they can on a violin. A child can start playing viola from the pre-twinkle stage and still learn good technique! There is no reason to “wait” because of technical issues.

There may be a reason to wait in terms of repertoire—or to switch: I make all of my students learn both instruments around Suzuki book 4 level, regardless of which instrument they played in Book 3, or which instrument they started on, or whether or not they have already “switched” once before.

If you send your student to a suzuki institute on viola, you should go back & familiarize the student with the “extra” pieces in the viola books which aren’t in the violin books (French Folk Song & Bohemian Folk song in book 1… which should be easy for a book 2 student to pick up.)

Merietta Oviatt said: Dec 21, 2012
Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

RaineJen, I’m sure you know that there are many more differences between violin and viola than just bow weight. Placement of left hand, placement of viola, bow hold differences, etc… I beg you all, PLEASE get serious training from a professional violist/viola teacher before introducing viola to your violin students. I have judged competitions where I can immediately spot the students taught by violinists vs. violists. I have also received many transfer students and have had to spend a year making corrections in their technique. I think it’s amazing for violinists to learn viola—as long as they do it with a trained viola teacher. In this entire conversation, if the word viola were replaced with the word cello the thread would be much smaller. However, with their visual similarities it is easy to think they are twins—but they are far from it! Please, read Wendy’s comments carefully—I cannot agree with her more. Get a minimum of one year of viola training yourself before trying to teach it.

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
[javascript protected email address]

Jennifer Visick said: Dec 21, 2012
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

Hi Merietta!

I agree with the warnings and cautions up to a point. I’m not saying that a violinist who has no training or experience on the viola should start teaching viola; what I was trying to say is that a child who is on a fractional size instrument should be sized for a viola the same way that they are sized for a violin. I don’t believe that children should play violas that are significantly different in string length from the string length of the violin that would be appropriate for them.

Therefore, when Wendy wrote “Because the violin is smaller and more navigable…” I had to respectfully disagree with that particular statement and with the cautions that spring solely from that particular concern. For a child on a fractional sized instrument, their viola should NOT be larger and less navigable than their appropriately sized violin.

Do you need to teach viola technique in light of the fact that the adult (or teenage) violist will be playing an instrument that is larger than a full sized violin? Of course! But when a teacher is trained on viola, I do not then believe that intonation or technique issues should prevent a child who wants to learn viola from beginning to learn, since intonation or other technical issues can be improved with practice on the viola, just as they can on any other instrument.

Merietta Oviatt said: Dec 22, 2012
Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

Thanks so much for clarifying, RaineJen!

Dr. Merietta Oviatt
Suzuki Specialist
Viola/Violin Instructor
Aber Suzuki Center, University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point
www.uwsp.edu/suzuki
www.merietta.com
[javascript protected email address]

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