break from Suzuki repertoire?

Mary said: Jan 30, 2013
 39 posts

I would like to hear from parents and teachers whose students have asked to take a break from the Suzuki repertoire. My 9 year old is nearing the end of book 5 violin and mentioned the other day that he might want to take a break from the Suzuki books. He said he’d liked to play some other music before starting on book 6. I am not sure what he has in mind but I can guess that it might involve fiddle tunes and maybe even the theme song to Star Wars or the Empire Strikes Back—he is a nine year old boy! And I think he would be fine with classical music but not more baroque music. He has also done some chamber music this year and loved being part of a small ensemble where he is responsible for playing his own part and very much enjoys making music with kids his own age. He truly loves to play his violin so he isn’t asking to quit but just to take a break from the repertoire.

I do wonder though whether or not he’ll want to go back to the Suzuki books once he experiences playing other kinds of music. Would it be a terrible missed opportunity if he does not end up returning to the Suzuki repertoire after taking such a break? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Brigette said: Jan 31, 2013
Brigette Weisenburger
Suzuki Association Member
Aberdeen, SD
28 posts

Could he not do both? I often have my students working on other pieces alongside their Suzuki repertoire.

Mary said: Feb 1, 2013
 39 posts

Thanks, yes his teacher is already doing this now. He’s done some fiddle tunes and he also works on ensemble pieces. But my son is asking to take a break from the Suzuki repertoire so that he can be free to explore different kinds of music. I should add that through ensemble he has met children who are learning to play violin outside of the Suzuki method. I think he was taken with the idea that one could learn violin by playing other kinds of music and when one little boy started to play the Star Wars theme song his jaw just dropped.

Brighid Wagner said: Feb 1, 2013
Brighid WagnerViolin, Viola
Eugene, OR
12 posts

Haha! Our studio is doing star wars too… the awesome thing about suzuki students is that they can pretty much pick up anything on their own. I would keep him learning violin formally, but reward each practice session with a play-by-ear piece of their choosing.

Lori Bolt said: Feb 2, 2013
Lori BoltPiano
San Clemente, CA
262 posts

I also insert some non-Suzuki pieces depending on the age/ stage of the students.
I find that the older they are (about age 10+) the more I need to let them explore their musical choices too.

Tiffany: I like your idea to reward w/ a play by ear choice….great motivator if that’s what the child enjoys. Like having dessert after eating a nutritious meal!

Lori Bolt

Kiyoko said: Feb 2, 2013
 95 posts

Whether or not he returns to Suzuki will probably matter more on the teachers you expose him to (Suzuki and non-Suzuki), his learning style and preferred playing styles. Excellent teachers that fit well with your son, regardless of whether or not they are Suzuki, will likely be more the deciding factor.

Will he miss opportunities? Probably. The Suzuki program is probably one of the most universally developed advanced music programs for his age group. There are many concert events, workshops, camps, and group lessons available around the world for children his age with his proficiency level. Outside of Suzuki, it be more limited with the exception of places like Interlochen and Tanglewood in middle school until he starts high school. It will be more challenging to find groups of peers at his ability level.

If he stays with Suzuki, starting in Book 6 he is going to hit “meatier” pieces. I don’t know what the new Book 6-8 revisions look like, but he will be getting into greater variation in technique, intrepretation, and playing styles. If you want to stay with the current teacher, maybe ask his teacher if they can work with him on a piece along side is current curriculum of his choice?

He could also take a “sabbatical” and try a different teacher—a Suzuki one that teaches a lot of non-Suzuki pieces, or a non-Suzuki one for a fixed period if you want to return to his original teacher. I had a different teacher for the summer sometimes and it was a nice break to be taught differently. Chances are though, that he might still find himself playing some of the same pieces as a new non-Suzuki teacher will often use recently learned works to assess their new transfers and to further technique.

Tiffany is right on about the play by ear sessions. I bet your son could play Star Wars on his own if he listened to it as much as his does his Suzuki recordings. I was always begging to learn Fritz Kriesler pieces and could play parts by ear to the recordings my parents had. lol, in college I used to play Metallica on my violin.

Maybe you can help him understand that he can play anything he hears enough to commit to memory, Suzuki or not.

Mary said: Feb 2, 2013
 39 posts

Thank you all for such thoughtful responses. It seems I should do my best to keep my son working through the Suzuki repertoire while finding the space to allow him to explore other kinds of music. I think you are right that he can probably play the Star Wars theme song by ear if he really tried. I like the idea of trying to teach him that he can play anything he hears so that he will feel free to explore music on his own. But I think he really would love to be able to share that work with his teacher rather than it being just something he did on his own. I will find a time to speak with her about this before he is completely finished with Book 5 so that we can form a good game plan.

As for the idea of taking a “sabbatical” I am not sure how that would work. He has a great teacher now and he has been working with her since book 1. The two of them have a really wonderful relationship. I would be concerned about jeopardizing that relationship if I were to experiment with having him work with another teacher.

Barb said: Feb 3, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
685 posts

I wouldn’t jeopardize the wonderful relationship with the current teacher. Good to hear you will speak to her about it. Likely she will understand his need for a break and will accommodate. I’ll bet the break won’t need to be long—maybe only one or two pieces. Having the freedom to do that every so often to explore other music seems healthy to me. He obviously will have a strong start with the first five books under his belt.

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Mary said: Feb 5, 2013
 39 posts

Thanks, Barb. I do not want to harm his relationship with his teacher and I think you are right that she will be happy to figure out how to accommodate his request and keep him excited about the Suzuki repertoire. I just want to make sure what I am asking seems reasonable and have thought through the different issues before speaking with her. No doubt she’ll have good ideas from her many years of teaching.

But I did notice that at my children’s music school the number of children continuing with the Suzuki repertoire seems to diminish greatly after the book 5/6 level though. It seems at that stage a lot of kids do move off the Suzuki books.

Kiyoko said: Feb 5, 2013
 95 posts

What you are asking seems perfectly reasonable. Nothing in the Suzuki Method that I know of bars the learning of other pieces. It’s not much different from working on ensemble pieces with your teacher or a non-Suzuki audition piece. Even back in the ’80s, some of the students I used to run across at the Guelph String Institute learned fiddling pieces like Devil’s Dream along side the Suzuki repertoire from their Suzuki teachers.

Some studentsvcould also be switching to other activities or instruments too. It seems common when kids hit middle school age, so your son is lucky that you are encouraging him to stick with it. One Suzuki violin friend of mine in particular regrets not continuing violin playing when she hit that age.

Different Suzuki teachers have different strengths including excelling within certain age groups. Workshops, summer institutes, group lessons, master classes, and ensembles all help in those regards.

It’s wonderful to hear that your son has such a great rapport with his teacher! I hope his teacher can help him explore his musical interests.

Lori Bolt said: Feb 6, 2013
Lori BoltPiano
San Clemente, CA
262 posts

Whatever keeps them playing is a good thing in my book ~ and probably would be according to Dr. Suzuki too!
The same technique, tone, etc. can be made on any piece. An experienced teacher will bring those elements in whether the piece is from Star Wars, Adele, or Vivaldi, IMHO.

Lori Bolt

Emily said: Dec 3, 2013
 59 posts

I think that if he chooses to play something different with the violin, then that is fine. He has gotten a good base learning from the Suzuki method. Some children prefer the faster, more modern music or improvisation. As long as he’s playing, then it’s a beautiful thing.

Emily Christensen
Music Teacher & Writer

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