Is it normal to take over a year for suzuki violin book 1?

Susan Pinto said: Apr 4, 2013
 5 posts

hi, my son started his private violin lessons when he was 6 yrs old. The teacher follows suzuki violin books. In between my son played some easy solos for beginning violin. My son is still on book 1. He has been playing one song for over 4 weeks now. He seems to fix his mistakes from previous class but makes new mistakes and has a tendency to go very fast. Is it normal for kids? Do kids get better as they get older? As a parent, I am concerned with the progress. Especially when I hear kids completing suzuki book 3 in little over a year. What can we do to help my son get better at it?

thanks,
susan

Melanie said: Apr 4, 2013
Melanie Barber
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Maple Valley, WA
25 posts

In book 1 there is so much to learn! While it is not a race at all to finish, I understand your concern for not wanting you son to fall behind. I would say its extremely rare for a child to finish 3 books in 1 year. For me, a six year old finishig book 1 in a year is still very rare. After book 1, the next few books will come faster, especially if students take their time and really learn everything. As a teacher, we use the music to teach the technique. We don’t teach pieces just to pass off. Once all of the notes are learned, that’s when the real learning can start happening. My advise for not making mistakes is to play slow and make many repetitions. There is a saying “Don’t practice until it is right, practice until it is never wrong.” Just like a swimmer isn’t always going to get a personal best time at every race, your son isn’t always going to play things perfectly. Good luck!

Susan Pinto said: Apr 4, 2013
 5 posts

Thank you so much Melanie. That makes me feel much better. Thanks again!

Marie said: Apr 4, 2013
 2 posts

I have 3 girls all playing violin with a Suzuki teacher and my 2 oldests daugthers took 2 years and a half for the book 1 and they started at 4 and 5 years old. It was longer then what we would have planned, but after, they progressed very well. We as parents were also learning because we did not have any music background, we had to be patient! Now my 9 years oldest daugter is in book 5, my second daugther is finishing her book 2, and my third daugther of 4 years old is learning from the 2 others, she will play Allegro at her solo this week-end. So from my personnal experience, I prefer building a solid foundation for the book 1 and work on the routine and the discipline of practicing everyday then to worry about how long it should take to finish a book. Hope this can help a little!

Kim said: Apr 4, 2013
 39 posts

I wouldn’t feel bad at all! 3 books in a year would be super rare where we take lessons (very large Suzuki program). Especially in a younger child (kids that start 8 to 10 and up do tend to move very quickly through early material if they’re motivated).

My daughter started at 4, and took almost 2 1/2 years for book 1. She only took 1 year for book 2 and 3 each though and is in book 4 at age 8. If things gel well in book 1, you’re set up to move faster after you finish book 1. Besides all the violin stuff to learn in book 1, which is a ton, there is also learning how to practice, how to be patient, how to listen. There is SO much going on behind the scenes and it’s worth it to do it well.

Make sure you’re listening a bunch too! That will help! I wouldn’t be worried about it at all. :)

Mary said: Apr 4, 2013
 39 posts

I’d echo the other posts. My son also started at 4 years old and took 2+ years—1 year for the Twinkles and 1+ year for the rest of book 1. He is now 9 and polishing the last piece in book 5. He moved at his own pace and I, as the Suzuki parent, did my best to not give any indication that I was concerned about his musical progress. Aside from developing a solid foundation he developed a real love for his instrument and the habit of daily practice.

I have a younger son who is 6 and in book 1 piano. Whenever he begins to have problems with a piece, I will stop him and play the recording of the piece for him 1-2x so that he can listen to it and be reminded of the correct rhythm and notes. I also ask him to sing the song out loud or in his head before trying again to make sure that he really does remember. I was reminded by his teacher that listening is really important at this age because the children are not reading music yet. So the recordings are their sheet music for now. If he struggles with rhythm you can also have him clap out the rhythms of the trouble sections. I also make sure that we review at each practice everything from the Twinkles to his current piece so that he can become a more fluid and confident player.

Susan Pinto said: Apr 5, 2013
 5 posts

Thank you everyone for providing the details and sharing your experiences. It really addressed all my concerns. Thanks again!

Phankao said: Apr 6, 2013
Phankao WanPiano, Viola, Violin
128 posts

My youngest (now 4yo) took 1yr 4mths with Book 1 violin, and 1yr 3mths with Book 1 piano. I guess that’s roughly about it. Not unusual to take over a year. Book 1 for both piano & violin has so many items!

Barb said: Apr 11, 2013
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Have you signed up for Parents as Partners Online? There are some EXCELLENT videos (well worth the registration fee), and the one I thought of when you talked about progress was Ed Kreitman’s “Defining Progress.” There are also several with tips for practice time.

Good advice here from the others, too. :-)

The short answer to your question is yes, it is normal.

My own take is that it is not a race, everyone goes at their own pace, but you need to move along enough that the child feels accomplishment in order to keep their motivation up. Sometimes THEY might think that if they are not moving through pieces quickly they are not progressing, and will need to be reminded of how they are becoming better players and what is easier now than earlier in the year. Or maybe if the current piece is going slowly it is because it is a more difficult piece and there is more to learn from it. The pieces at the end of book 1 are also longer than the early pieces.

The real problems develop if progress truly does slow down (or go backwards) due to missing lessons or practice, or inattentive practice/review, or skipping group lessons, etc. Then the child can really become unmotivated.

Yes, I think it is normal for many kids to just play fast, which leads to trip ups. They also usually want to play beginning to end. You can help to slow him down and work on sections. Using games usually works wonders!

There are a lot of ideas in these forums as well as in the videos mentioned above, and some good books on practicing are Ed Sprunger’s Helping Parents Practice and Ed Kreitman’s Teaching from the Balance Point.

Best wishes in your Suzuki journey!

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

Susan Pinto said: Apr 15, 2013
 5 posts

Thank you so much… The videos sound interesting.. thanks for sharing..

Kiyoko said: Apr 19, 2013
 84 posts

I wanted to share that the pace very much depends on the individual student and on the teacher. There is no too slow (or too fast, for that matter) in Suzuki and it might widely vary during your child’s studies. Suzuki Method also encompasses the development of life skills and child character, so at the start what your Suzuki teacher teaches your son isn’t just how to hold the violin and play Twinkle. It is much more, the least of which is to enjoy music, developing a respectful student teacher relationship, learning how to practice, learning how to develop mastery, and paying attention to posture. Learning music through Suzuki is much more a journey than just studying music.

Sometimes I wonder if there is a natural tendency to equate each Suzuki volume to a school grade. They should not be equated as every volume has different progressions and emphasis. Progression also depends on where your child is in his life at the time and what he can learn of life through music. Some will take longer than others, but that has little bearing on the education and benefits to your child in the long run. It’s something to keep in mind as your son progresses.

Irene said: Apr 25, 2013
Irene YeongViolin
160 posts

my daughter started at 2 and took 2 1/2 year to finish book one.

Wade said: Apr 26, 2013
 1 posts

My daughter has been working on Book 1 for 3 1/2 years and is still not done. I’m amazed that anyone can finish it in less time than that.

Phankao said: Apr 26, 2013
Phankao WanPiano, Viola, Violin
128 posts

How long is spent on each piece then in Book 1? Or does the child play other pieces or exercise pieces as well in addition to the suzuki book pieces?

Andrea Mueller-Bohlke said: Apr 27, 2013
Andrea Mueller-Bohlke
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Volketswil CH-8604, Switzerland
7 posts

I think if the child starts learning at 3 years old, book 1 can easily take three years to complete. In the case of my daughter, book 1 took around three years, then book 2 took one year, and book 3 took less than four months.

Andrea in Volketswil Switzerland

Anita said: Apr 29, 2013
 38 posts

My children took about 2 years to finish Book 1 and about 9 months to finish Book 2. One is starting Book 3, the other is two songs away. They’re 2 years apart in age, but at the (relatively) same place in the Suzuki books because they started at the same time. They started playing violin at ages 4 & 6, and did it for two years through their public school before we found a private Suzuki teacher and formally started Book 1, although their school teacher had already done all the “Twinkle” variations with them.

It really depends on the child and how much you listen and practice. Prior to starting with the private Suzuki teacher, we didn’t practice—just used the violins at school, twice a week. Once we got a private teacher and bought them their own violins, we listened every day and practiced 5 days a week. Progress went much more quickly, immediately.

We do lots of supplemental music, too, now, like school orchestra and fiddling. Pretty much anything they’re interested in (movie & TV themes, currently—Star Wars: Clone Wars, Transformers Prime) they gobble up, in addition to their Suzuki and fiddling. It probably slows their progress through the Suzuki books, but they enjoy it and I encourage that they learn a wide variety of genres of music.

AMB

Rebecca Ark said: Jun 5, 2013
 12 posts

All three of my girls are in book one. My oldest is 5 and has been taking lessons for 1 year and 9 months. We are working on Étude and have just completed 1 year in a row of practicing daily.

Because of our commitment to practice I am a bit discouraged with progress. Maybe I need to find more effective ways of practicing! That being said, we are also always working on learning other “by ear” pieces and have started doing the first I Can Read Music book.

My twins started in Feb at 3 (4 now) and are just beginning to finger and bow together.

Edmund Sprunger said: Jun 5, 2013
Edmund SprungerTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Saint Louis, MO
97 posts

We adults—teachers and parents—are always looking for ways to make practice more effective, but there’s also something to be said for time. One plants seeds in good soil with the amount of sun those seeds will need, then fertilizes and waters them; but they will just take the time they need to grow. As I learned when studying with Suzuki in Japan, you can’t tug on a branch to make it grow.

If you were studying with me, based on what you’re telling us, I’d say things were going along quite well. But I’m not there—maybe you should be working on the last piece in the book, maybe you shouldn’t be working on anything past Lightly Row, or maybe you’re right where you need to be. What does your teacher have to say?

Edmund Sprunger
sprungerstudio.com
yespublishing.com

Sue Moore said: Jun 5, 2013
 McDonald, PA
1 posts

My son has gone slowly through all of the books. He takes comfort in learning techniques with familiar songs. He started at age 4 and is in Book 3 at age 10 and still enjoys playing the cello. Some of his classmates have ripped through the repertoire quickly but are still working on the same techniques as my son, others have quit playing altogether and still others are just learning everything at a faster or slower pace. I just don’t find it worth comparing as long as his interest doesn’t wane and he continues to improve.

Anne said: Jun 5, 2013
 2 posts

I get really tired of listening to parents wonder if their child is moving too slowly! This is not a race! We concentrate on mastering each piece—if it takes longer to do that, then so be it. I want my child to enjoy the beauty in what she plays and to make her violin “sing”, not to worry about what book she is in. There are times when she moves faster through a piece than her peers and there are times when she moves slower; I encourage her to look at her own accomplishments and not others. I feel like we have accomplished the most when she can listen to her peers and enjoy what they play rather than envy that they are ahead of her.

Antonina Kasprzak said: Jun 27, 2013
 1 posts

Thanks for sharing your concerns, as I am asking myself similar questions.

My daughter started in September, she was 5. Now after one school year she is playing Allegro from Book 1. I suppose it will take at least one more year to finish Book 1.

Our teacher says it’s a pretty solid pace.

Kiyoko said: Jun 27, 2013
 84 posts

When I was young, it was common to take up to a year just to get through posture, bowing, bow holding, and Twinkle and its the variations for young children. There’s no rush or fixed pace.

Darren Gates said: Oct 21, 2013
 3 posts

My daughter is 4 1/2, and “officially” she is only on Lightly Row, but “unofficially” she has can at least somewhat play about 1/2 of the book. Here’s my post on the subject if you’re interested (my post is near the bottom).

https://suzukiassociation.org/discuss/21803/

I think that she will probably end up spending 2 years on the first book, mostly because of her teacher’s insistence that every song be nearly perfect before progressing. But I plan to enrich her education to help make her experience more fun.

No one wants to (or should) play Twinkle for a year straight, especially not a 4-year-old!

Phankao said: Oct 21, 2013
Phankao WanPiano, Viola, Violin
128 posts

I know my child would be bored too. Mine just turned 5yo and while he’s in Suzuki vol 3, his teacher has been spending most of his recent lessons on his performance piece for the year-end concert. But these don’t take us long to practise at home, so he just trudges on on his own, going from one Vol.3 piece to another. We just completed Humouresque with vibrato and he’s dying to do the next.

Mengwei said: Oct 22, 2013
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
127 posts

I second Ed Kreitman’s “Defining Progress” talk! He says: “Moving from piece to piece in the repertoire is definitely a form of progress but we can really only consider that to be progress when the child possess all the skills necessary to play the next piece.” When my students play some piece at a certain level/quality, I start previewing the next skill(s), but we are not “done” with “old” pieces. We are gradually going to make them more beautiful, a transformation process that can be lost if the goal is always racing from notes to notes.

Each piece requires building blocks from previous pieces, but Twinkle starts from basically nothing, so it’s natural to take a while. The foundation and each step really must be at a certain level (I’m not saying perfect) or else the student is going to struggle later because we haven’t appropriately prepared them.

For parents looking for a timeline, I refer to the chart by Elizabeth Mills, which someone posted on the forum a while back: https://suzukiassociation.org/download/userfiles/F_3b0_Parents_guide_to_Twinkle_Vn_Vla_mills.pdf

I also like this article about piano, but the ideas are not exclusive to piano: http://core.ecu.edu/hist/wilburnk/SuzukiPianoBasics/News/PB35-Sept98.htm

On the subject of practice—if your teacher says only “practice XYZ piece”, please please please ask for specifics, such as technical or musical points to focus on, then be sure to do it. “Playing through” is a skill too but practice should be a lot more than that. I’m not against exploring either but with two caveats: 1) do not neglect my assignments in favor of exploring and 2) do not go too far or too intensely; if something is learned or figured out and repeated “incorrectly”, it’s more work for everyone later to undo it.

Merietta Oviatt said: Oct 22, 2013
Merietta OviattViolin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

I REALLY want to encourage the parents to read the posts by the teachers in this entire conversation. Again and again teachers are saying that the pace is determined by the child, that the pace is normal, that you cannot go too fast, that you must listen to your teacher and follow their expertise. For those of you who are kind of following what your teacher says, but are also kind of doing what you want on your own and without your teacher—please stop. I cannot tell you how often I have students who have gone ahead on their own and when I actually get to the piece with them we end-up having to go through and fix mistake after mistake. In actuality, if they had just listened to me their over-all pace would actually be much faster. In other words, it seems that by moving on on your own you are actually going much faster, but due to bad habits and mistakes that your child is learning by not following teachers instructions—the amount of time your child will take to officially get through the book will slow tremendously! I am very fortunate to have had a few students in recent years who literally follow my instructions to the letter. Their over-all pace has been amazing (they are getting through things faster as they go)! As other parents have come into my studio, they see this and ask those parents what they are doing to make this happen. When they find-out that they literally do what I tell them to do, and then start following as well—their children start getting better and eventually their pace will quicken. If you do not like how your lessons are going, please don’t go behind your teachers back to do what you want—talk to your teacher. It’s usually quite amazing how much students can improve when they do exactly as their teacher prescribes.

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]

Celia Jones said: Oct 31, 2013
 Violin
72 posts

Merietta, when I read your post, it made me think a lot about how well we follow our teacher’s instructions. There was a time when I would say to my daughter “come on, do what the teacher said and maybe you will be on Happy Farmer by your fifth birthday”. By her sixth birthday, she was just about polishing up Etude. We joke that maybe she will reach Happy Farmer by her eighth birthday, or perhaps her ninth. But to be honest, she is beginning to look crushed.

The problem seems to be remembering the notes. There is a super-fast kid who used to have her lesson right before my daughter, and every week she played last week’s piece and the teacher would teach her next week’s piece. I just can’t imagine how she learns the notes that fast, except that she speaks Mandarin which is a tonal language. Speaking a tonal language seems to help the kids learn tunes easily:

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20227064.300-tonal-languages-are-the-key-to-perfect-pitch.html

I think maybe, it’s not the kids that follow the teacher’s instructions that move fast, rather, the kids that move fast find it easier to follow the teachers’ instructions.

Melanie Drake said: Oct 31, 2013
Melanie Drake25 posts

Hi Celia,

Have you heard of Michele Horner’s Listening Like a Maniac! presentation from Parents as Partners? In this presentation, Michele shares the secret for quick memorization of new pieces. The technique is simple and involves repeated, concentrated listening of current and upcoming pieces. I believe the formula is working piece + new piece + next (preview) piece on repeat. This concentrated listening is thought to facilitate internalization of new pieces. I implemented this system in my household with the help of several wifi radios. Each child has a radio in their bedroom and their very own ‘listening like a maniac’ playlist. When a new piece is started, I update their playlist by deleting the old working piece and adding the next preview piece; this update takes less than a minute of my time. I can use an iPad to modify their playlists (and to turn off their radios once I suspect they are asleep). This system is working reasonably well for us. I add review pieces as needed (e.g., for an upcoming recital or when something needs an extra boost).

As a side note, I have to argue that this works better for my cellist than for my guitarist. Both are in book 2, but I believe that the difficulty of guitar book 2 far exceeds that of cello book 2. This is my opinion. I should say that I am not a musician although I self-taught classical guitar before I had kids. There’s so much more going on in guitar book 2 (more shifting, many notes at once, complicated fingerings for both hands and listening can only help to a point). My cellist can more or less play new songs from listening alone (he needs assistance with shifting, bowing, and form) but this is not so straightforward for guitar. Our progress with guitar has been very slow despite daily practice and listening. My guitarist has been studying for three years longer than my cellist. I believe it’s more a factor of technical difficulty than memorization. And maybe there’s a difference in the children too, although this is not a very ‘Suzuki’ thought.

Try to remember that the goal is not to breeze through the pieces as quickly as possible. This is difficult for me to remember sometimes.

Celia Jones said: Nov 1, 2013
 Violin
72 posts

Melanie, that’s a great idea with the intense listening. I think with the benefit of hindsight, I would have enrolled my child in a Kodaly class and not started an instrument until now (she is 6, she has been playing 3 years). I know that some teachers have the child observe lessons for a year or two and I think that is ideal.

But my point still stands, that for the child who is breezing through their pieces and their teaching points, the teachers’ instructions are inherently more attractive than for the child who is on the slow track. And while some children may progress “amazingly” when they follow instructions, others will still be ordinary or even slow.

I totally agree with you Merietta, it doesn’t work to push on ahead of the teacher, but taking it slowly can still mean going slowly.

Merietta Oviatt said: Nov 1, 2013
Merietta OviattViolin, Suzuki in the Schools, Cello, Viola
Stevens Point, WI
104 posts

Celia,

I just want to share that I have had students who have been in book 1 for years while others are breezing through, but by the time that same book 1 child gets to book four—they explode and move like the wind! It does seem to me that you are a little discouraged. Have you shared your and your daughter’s frustrations with the teacher? Perhaps there is a different approach they can take to A- help move her along a little easier B- help her not get discouraged by the amount of time it is taking her. Sometimes, as a teacher, it is easy to fall into a rut in my teaching and follow the same pattern for each child. As my days are so busy, and as I have so many students, I sometimes found myself teaching the same way for all of the kids. However, when I have had a parent voice their concerns to me, or share their frustrations with me, it made me stop and re-evaluate what I am doing with a particular student. The best thing is that after I have had a few parents do that with me in the past, I am very careful to individualize each lesson for each child. I started two children on the first Seitz this week and you wouldn’t know it was the same piece if you simply looked at how differently I was approaching it. Remember that one of the most important jobs for a teacher is to always be a student, always learn from the lessons we teach. Parents and students can really help us with this endeavor by being open and honest with us. If I don’t know that a student is frustrated or unhappy, I cannot adjust my teaching to help remove the problem. There is one last, very important thing I want to tell you: As I have been getting my doctorate in music there are times when I feel as if I will certainly die if I don’t have a passage perfect by the end of the day, or that my life will be over if I make a mistake when teaching a student. I am very fortunate to have one of the most amazing professors here who said something that made me stop in my tracks. He said “It’s just music. It’s not life or death. Ultimately why are we here and what are we doing? Music is meant to give people happiness, explore their emotions, feel deeper, and be entertaining. It’s not surgery and you do not hold a persons literal life in your hands. Can music make you a better person? Of course it can! Can not being able to play a C# melodic minor scale perfectly in your jury going to ruin your life forever? Of course not. Put it into perspective.” Try to explore the joys of playing Lightly Row, remember how much fun that performance of Allegro was. Enjoy the music you are making—but always try to find the joy. Don’t let it make you feel horrible or depress you—it truly is only music. I really hope that this helps you, Celia (as long as it is!) ;)

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]

Kiyoko said: Nov 1, 2013
 84 posts

Celia-

If note memorization is part of the struggle for your daughter, might I suggest you have your daughter listen extra to the piece she is currently working on along with the next piece? I bet your daughter learns and sings her favorite pop songs in no time. Does she ever practice to the music she listens to?

Does she rely on reading the music and focus on the notes on the page when she plays? Or is she playing more by ear and memory? In Suzuki, after the initial learning stage for a new piece (or sometimes even before), aural and memory training should take over and she should be relying more on her mind, body, and ear on what to play.

On that note, maybe ask the teacher if she could work on some memory and ear training to speed up the process you are referring to.

Good luck!

Kiyoko

Celia Jones said: Nov 1, 2013
 Violin
72 posts

Merietta and Kiyoko, what lovely replies, thank you!

Our teacher is really wonderful and has carried us through these tough two years.
That makes it clearer Merietta to hear you say that the slow-start students take off around Book Four. That makes me ready to be more patient, instead of hoping things will start to pick up sooner, which is what I thought you meant (but it clearly is not happening). This is all about expectations.

Kiyoko—no my daughter does not remember pop songs any easier. She can remember phrases, but she slips from one key to another, muddles order of phrases, whether it’s her current Suzuki piece or whatever. She can quite amazingly find random phrases or copy the style of music though. One day she called us down to a concert of “elvish” music, and played variations on Lord of the Rings themes.

After spending a good couple of hours thinking about it last night and getting out all the progress charts, lesson notes, and practise records, I wrote down a huge list of the skills she has learned. Then I stuffed her violin case full of Hallowe’en sweets and left the big list on top. Instead of our usual practise, we just played along with the CD, something we haven’t done for months. I have to admit, I made more errors than her, and I was reminded of just how demanding the Suzuki standard for Book One is. When I can express genuine admiration, she shines. So I think it is very important for parents to appreciate their child’s achievement.

Heather Reichgott said: Nov 1, 2013
Heather ReichgottPiano
South Hadley, MA
96 posts

Celia, what a lovely post. The elvish music concert is so fantastic, and supporting that kind of musical love and creativity is exactly what Suzuki music study is about. Your daughter is lucky to have such a supportive, concerned and encouraging parent.

Emily said: Nov 25, 2013
 59 posts

It’s great to see such a supportive parent, you’re son is very lucky. Don’t be too hard on yourself, your son is moving along at the perfect pace for him. Finishing three books in just over a year, is a very rare feat. Finishing one book in 1-2 years is about the norm, some take less time and some take more. Just keep encouraging him and asking questions, that will help him go further than you can imagine. Good luck!

Emily Christensen
Music Teacher & Writer
www.musiceducationmadness.org

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