Student coming from none-Suzuki teachers

Megan Shung Smith said: Aug 19, 2014
Megan Shung Smith
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki in the Schools, Viola
Glendale, CA
1 posts

I started teaching at a neighborhood school and took a student (age 10) from the previous teacher who left the school. He was taught using the traditional method—reading a lot, not great listeners or imitators, posture and sound issues.

Our first lesson, he struggled so much with the rhythm and bowing in Hunter’s Chorus (can’t get pass more than a measure) made it clear that he’s not ready for the piece. I suggested that we do some review and foundation work in book 1 to build up listening skills and solidifying posture. On our second lessons, the parents bought the book 1 and CD but voiced their concern that while they understand his foundation issues, they feel that the repertoire is too simple for their child and they do not want him to go that far back…etc.

Since I took over these students for the school from another teacher and they are still expecting the “traditional method”, I have the responsibility to keep them satisfied at continue to come back for lessons at the school. I decided for now, to formulate his lesson with scales, bk 1 as appetizers and started him on Long Long Ago theme in bk 2 just to keep everyone happy.

Any suggestions?

Megan Shung Smith

Mengwei said: Aug 20, 2014
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
120 posts

One of my teacher trainers was (is) in a position where she can tell transfer students/parents that the expectation is they will start from book 1. Sure, they will go quickly because the pieces are “easy”, but the purpose is to check for any gaps in skills, and if they work diligently, they will soon get up to [where they think they are] and all of their pieces will be better for it.

At this level the Suzuki skill sequence and skill-building through review can take the place of “traditional” etudes (Hunters’ Chorus wouldn’t be so difficult if Gossec Gavotte were already at a polished performance level), so it seems to me the student needs to work through book 1 checking off skills or needs a separate etude book that will catch him up on what’s missing. Did he skip book 1 and have another method book instead? What if you start book 1 at Etude (wonder why it’s called that! :) )?

I’m covering a maternity leave at a place that doesn’t really care what “method” I use. It’s like they are transfer students, yet I won’t have them for long. I tell them, for example, that reading notes is just logic and decoding symbols. They don’t need me to teach them notes! But if we work on physical skills, listening, and feeling the music (posture, tone, and musicality—commonly the weak areas in a transfer student whose eyes are glued to the music book), they will become more comfortable with how the violin works, and later they will be able to play anything! I think this is more useful for them, and enjoyable for me, than slogging through notes, and besides, if they listen to the recording enough, they can teach themselves the notes.

I also tell them that students in my private studio in another town, who study with me long-term, review all of their “old pieces” and play them regularly for each other and in community performances. This gets into why we make music and why we don’t perform with the music book, but the main point for the transfer or temporary student is that skills and patterns from old pieces show up again and again. New pieces are then easier because they aren’t completely new.

(I get a lot of ideas from observing master classes at summer institutes. The master class teachers have to validate what the student and the regular teacher have already accomplished, as well as work on something that will benefit the student the rest of the year.)

Barbara Stafford said: Aug 20, 2014
Barbara Stafford
Suzuki Association Member
Plano, TX
59 posts

In line with Mengwei, I agree it is important to validate and compliment and respect whatever the student was able to accomplish with the help of the previous teacher. And at my teacher training this summer. One of the presenters (Lucy) said, “we don’t review to remember (how to play the song), we review to revise (how we play the song).” So maybe speaking of that idea can be helpful. Parent and student perceptions (no matter how annoying they can sometimes feel) do matter, so from my way of thinking, I think you are right to do both these things—take them back into book one for technical and musical improvements, yet work ahead from where they are at their reading level also, with the understanding that they will have to “review to revise” their “reading” piece in the future.

Sarah Cote said: Aug 20, 2014
Sarah CoteViola, Violin
Nashville, TN
4 posts

I also teach at a middle school in addition to my college and Suzuki students. Many of these kids typically have to do a by ear tune or exercise in every lesson, because that is not what they do in class. I use review repertoire, even if it is new for them. This is on top of what they are working on. I keep in mind that public school kids are following the ASTA curriculum, which is faster and more standardized than Suzuki. Some of their by ear/imitative work is to support things like shifting or spiccato which they might not be ready to do in a Suzuki track.

Sarah Cote

Cleo Ann Brimhall said: Aug 20, 2014
Cleo Ann BrimhallTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
West Jordan, UT
39 posts

In case of piano, I received this advice from Dr. Kataoka. It has worked very successfully for me. I praise the student on their ability to read music. Then I tell them that in my studio we are going to learn an additional skill of learning to listen and play. To do this it is easier to begin with simple pieces. I give them the CD for Book I (no Book)—if they need help with fingering I can easily do that. Book one is pretty easy that way. Then we also continue with their reading program at their playing level. Scales or other material can be added if necessary.

The Suzuki method is not dependent upon repertoire. The skills that we are developing will be started from scratch—one thing at a time. Then should practice this scale in the Suzuki repertoire, their transferred repertoire and anything we do. I begin with the natural relaxed and strong posture (comparing it to athletics) and grow from there.

Often students become very interested in the ear training and cut back on their transfer music. It really doesn’t matter. When the student has learned Book 1, developed good body, brain and ear skills, they can go on with any Book level they are comfortable with. Most of my students just proceed through the literature.


Elise Winters said: Aug 20, 2014
Elise Winters
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Austin, TX
37 posts

I think students’ (and sometimes parents’) subjective experience often matters as much, or more than, following one’s preferred pedagogical sequence. It’s hard to avoid students’ perception of going backwards when they’re playing “last year’s songs” while their peers move forward … no matter how much we try to persuade them.

A motto I’ve adopted recently is, “It has to ALL work.” Regardless of my own principles and reasons, if they’re not feeling empowered, motivated and proud of their work, then I need to find a better solution.

Considering there’s so much great music literature in the world, a better choice may be to select “sideways” pieces that will allow you to teach the skills you need to teach … while giving them the motivating experience of learning new repertoire (which is one of their biggest motivations). IMSLP is a great resource for more advanced students, as well as various anthologies for more beginning students. You can analyze the “teaching points” of these songs to cover all of your pedagogical needs.

Since most of these won’t come prepackaged with a recording, I record the pieces during their lesson (they love watching me perform the piece!) and send the recording to their parents’ email with instructions on how to do their listening.

By-ear playing can be structured in smaller ways. In my experience, the best by-ear exercises for beginning students are simply memorizing their songs, since this requires a great deal of by-ear reconstruction. It’s likely that their first teacher did not require them to memorize. You can ask the student to memorize a short song every week and progress to memorizing their current repertoire.

Christiane said: Aug 20, 2014
Christiane Pors-Sadoff
Suzuki Association Member
New York, NY
47 posts

I would agree with Elise Winters, and say that there are many parallel pieces out there that can be used to build technical skills that should have been ideally built with Book 1. I find that the fiddle tunes from The American Fiddle Method 1&2 by Brian Wicklund (a Suzuki violinist first), has been quite helpful engaging kids that need technical work—you can use a fiddle tune that is on a much easier level than the student’s current level and it will be as if he or she is just learning new pieces and a new style. I never take a student back to Book 1 if they are non-Suzuki, especially at that age…it just ends up feeling punitive and like they are going backwards instead of forwards, even though we know they would not be from a strictly technical point of view. In addition you can give them “new” exercises like Schradieck to build their articulation skills, hence intonation skills. Also you can show them how to improvise a tonalization to play each day before pieces, show them how to write it down when they get one they really like, thereby emphasizing tone development, and bow control. I would work on open string exercises as well.

Christiane Pors
Mikomi Violin Studio
Kaufman Music Center
NYU Steinhardt

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