Suzuki Teachers—When to draw the line

Tiya Tekin said: Feb 10, 2016
 Violin
9 posts

My daughter has been in Book One for over three years. She has had one teacher change within that period. I know many teachers say it is normal to go through book one in three years but I have also seen that some believe it is too much.

To cut a long story short, I believe that my second Suzuki teacher was deliberately taking her time as she went through the book. I gave benefit of the doubt through these last 2.5 years. Considering the ease with which my daughter picks up the songs and technique, I am shocked at myself for letting it go for so long. Part of the problem which kept me playing along with this teacher even though I felt she was abusing the situation, was finding a teacher within a reasonable distance, and the trauma of changing teachers which I wanted to avoid.

My question to teachers is how does a parent judge if a teacher is truly taking that time because a child is lacking or because they just want o extend the time and income. I am sorry to sound accusative, but at the end of the day this is a genuine concern and not all teachers teaching the Suzuki method are doing it because it is their ideal vocation, but it is a means of income for them. Second , is there a body or organization to which one can complain if they feel the teacher is abusing the method (Suzuki method of teaching). I just feel it is appalling that someone can get away with this and there should be some way to minimize such occurrences.

Now my daughter is starting with a new teacher, and I am very apprehensive wondering how this experience is going to unfold

Christine said: Feb 10, 2016
Christine Goodner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Viola
Hillsboro, OR
72 posts

I am a Suzuki teacher so am speaking from that perspective—I have had students take a year to get through Book One (that’s very quick) and I have had some take 3 years to get through Book One (especially if they start very young). There are certain things I am looking for students to do with ease before going on—mainly because over many years of teaching I know which things in Book One are going to be important for playing more advanced songs later.

One thing I’ve been doing lately is scheduling Parent/Teacher conferences once a year so some of these things can be talked out well. Even if a teacher doesn’t do this on a regular basis most would be willing if you request it. Finding out from the teacher what they are expecting before moving on to the next piece/book can help a lot. As a teacher I try to articulate what I am looking for before going on as often as I can . . . there may be something I am waiting for before moving more quickly (review songs to be fluent and easy to play, posture and bow hold to improve enough to support playing more complex songs etc).

In my experience teachers do not enjoy it when things are moving excessively slow either, there may be exceptions out there but I don’t know anyone who would purposefully make a child go slowly to try to make more money. I do totally empathize at how frustrating it can be if you’re feeling things are moving too slow and don’t have a clear idea about what needs to be done for things to improve!

The moral of the story is communication with the teacher—simply asking “What things are you looking for in this song before we move on?” can help a lot.

Best of luck to you! :)

Christine Goodner

Studio Website: Brookside Suzuki Strings

Blog: The Suzuki Triangle

Free eBook: Painless Practice: 7 Principles for Setting up Effective Practice Routines

“When Love is Deep, Much can be Accomplished” ~ Suzuki

Edmund Sprunger said: Feb 10, 2016
Edmund SprungerTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Saint Louis, MO
97 posts

There is some crucial information missing: How old was the girl when lessons began? How much listening is happening? How much review is happening? How much practice is there?

Edmund Sprunger
sprungerstudio.com
yespublishing.com

Melanie said: Feb 10, 2016
Melanie Barber
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Maple Valley, WA
25 posts

Just two days ago, a student of mine had her book 1 recital. She just turned 10 and it took 3.5 years to get to this point. She played beautifully and I was beyond proud of her. Did it take her a bit more time? Yes. Did I at times feel frustrated with her slow progress? Yes. Did she sound good and have good technique at her recital? YES! Will she go faster through the rest of the books? I’m positive of that!

It sounds like your teacher may have had certain things they wanted to happen before moving onto a new piece that you didn’t know about(?) Did you ever discuss your feelings with this teacher? I’m sure if you asked your teacher, she would have detailed the reasons of moving through the music the way she did. There are so many small physical aspects of playing the violin that all need to be consistent that are challenging like bow hold, intonation, relaxed playing, no tension, ease of playing left hand, posture, proper form, head postion, balance stance, tone, bow distribution, different bow techniques, reciew pieces, etc. I always tell my students, you can tell how good a student is by their technique and sound. I would much rather hear an amazing twinkle then a bad piece in book 2.

I don’t think any teacher would ever want a child to move slow through the music, even if they aren’t teaching because they love their job. I know you were very frustrated with your last teacher, but Im guessing she didn’t know your feelings and may be confused of why you switched teachers. I can imagine her thinking something like “We’ve finally gotten XYZ issues figured out and after all that hard work, leaves to a new teacher? I thought everything was going great and that we had a good relationship!” Now I could be totally wrong, but I’m putting myself in the roll as if my student who just had her book 1 recital left me for another teacher. That’s how I’d feel.

Good luck with your new teacher. The past is the past. Make sure going forward you have lots of communication about expectations so neither of you have frustrations. That will also help you focus your practice even more. I hope it turns out for the best. Sometimes a change is what’s needed. Also be aware that when there is a new teacher, there is an adjustment period so just remain open and ask questions. Best of luck!

Tiya Tekin said: Feb 10, 2016
 Violin
9 posts

Thank you all for giving input. My daughter started when she was about to turn 4. She is now 7.5 and still hasn’t done her recital. With regards to listening and practice, it was consistent. Practice was at least 4 times a week if not more. Review was continuous. We spent about 20 minutes of the class time reviewing and in the last ten minutes if we were lucky we would get a part of the new song to be learned (and that would be like a part of a section , not even a whole section).

Communication is important and I did try a couple of times to hint my concern about the slow pace when compared to other students. I did not get a real answer.

I did not leave her , even though I had all these concerns. She is the one who actually left us and only told us about leaving a couple of weeks prior to her leaving which infuriated me even more. She blamed the short notice on the school administration, but I found that to be lame. If my daughter has been with you for over two years you owe her more respect than letting her know so abruptly, especially when you have known for months that you would be leaving and especially when she was finally preparing my daughter for her recital.

I cannot cry over spilled milk. My only concern after this experience is how to deal with her future teacher and ensure I am not subjected to similar situations. As a parent (with no music background) of a child studying Suzuki method, it is very hard to gauge what is proficient progress because the reference is not there. The answer is always each child is different. But surely there must be standard benchmarks to compare against when it comes to assessing if your child is moving at an acceptable pace.

Tiya Tekin said: Feb 10, 2016
 Violin
9 posts

A quick question, is it expected of all Suzuki trained teachers to adhere to the bowing greeting at the beginning of the class and at the end of the class?

This is something her new teacher is not doing and is already making me have concerns.

Tiya Tekin said: Feb 10, 2016
 Violin
9 posts

I forgot to mention that listening was daily. And I did review with her at home as well, in addition to the new notes she learned as she progressed.

Betsy Stocksdale said: Feb 10, 2016
Betsy Stocksdale
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Baltimore, MD
8 posts

Daily listening is great. Practicing 4x a week is not as great. Consider that is about half the week, and those doing more will progress much faster. Also, what was your working relationship with your daughter like? How did you relate to the teacher?

When you say “she left” consider that the teacher was an employee. If that is the case, she may have been bound by her employer to certain protocols upon leaving, which made it impossible to tell you sooner. This was true at my last place of employment. I decided to leave 6 months before I did, worked through my retirement with the Dean, but wasn’t to communicate until near the end of the semester. There are very good reasons for these protocols.

You say that you never got a good answer when hinting at your concerns. May I ask what answer you did get?

I am also curious what happened with the first teacher, and how you ended up with this one.

Christine said: Feb 10, 2016
Christine Goodner
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Viola
Hillsboro, OR
72 posts

What you are describing (starting a little before age 4, practice on average 4x a week, and a switch in teachers added in) makes taking years to finish book seem not that unusual at all.

In Book One the whole foundation is built for what students will learn in the following books—many of my students take 2-3 years on book one and then move much quicker through the following books.

There is no strict guideline about bowing that Suzuki teachers are required to adhere to . . . most of them have students bow at the end, many before and after but excellent teachers each have their own way of conducting their lessons. I would not be concerned . . . you are just seeing a difference (of which there are many from teacher to teacher).

Christine Goodner

Studio Website: Brookside Suzuki Strings

Blog: The Suzuki Triangle

Free eBook: Painless Practice: 7 Principles for Setting up Effective Practice Routines

“When Love is Deep, Much can be Accomplished” ~ Suzuki

Tiya Tekin said: Feb 10, 2016
 Violin
9 posts

Thank you Christine. While I understand that the change of teachers was not to her advantage, the change happened at the very beginning (within 6 months) of starting her Suzuki training. She had just completed learning Version A of Twinkle. And it was due to scheduling issues/clashes. And since that change she has been with the same teacher. I doubt that teacher change had a significant impact. Plus the personality of the child also is important. My daughter is very adaptable and did not have any regression when we switched.

Besty I would have my reservations about 4x a week not being as great because as Suzuki teachers always stress each child’s ability is different. Four times a week for one child may be equivalent to seven times a week for another child. Nonetheless, I stated that she practiced minimum 4 times a week and more often than not she practiced more than that.

In response to my inquiry I was told “well the other child is more self motivated and picks up all the new music herself and comes to class already having learnt pieces. That didn’t make sense to me because its not about learning the notes only, since it is about technique ( I often wondered how the other child’s teacher allowed her to do that in the first place). And I have seen that child play in group classes and her technique was not particularly impressive to explain such a rapid progress. So it shocking to me that my daughter is still starting book two while the other girl is in book 4.

Suzuki being a very personal intimate form of teaching, I would not have expected this kind of exit by a teacher regardless of contractual obligations.

My whole concern is to get advice about how not be victim to another situation like this. I think I should have been more communicative and been more assertive in pursuing explanations for what I felt was an unexplained pace. I read somewhere on this board in another thread to trust ones gut feeling and I just ignored it. Many factors contributed to this. Scarcity of teachers who have open schedules and disruption of my daughters training were the most influencing reasons why I put up with it. But I wonder if I had located another teacher where my daughter would be now?

How did I find her teacher? Through this website. How did I find her current teacher, she was the replacement one found by the school. She seems to be very skilled and my daughter seems happier with her and more motivated. I am hoping for the best, but I am going to be a lot more vigilant this time around. I do not find her (the new teacher) as a member of this site and wonder is that a disadvantage?

Irene Mitchell said: Feb 11, 2016
Irene Mitchell
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Dallas, TX
111 posts

Hello Tiya and colleagues.
I have found that success stems from
1. Practicing EVERY day, without fail.
“Practice only on the days that you eat”-Dr Suzuki
2. Listening EVERY day (optimum would be several times a day)

In Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”, he suggests that 10,000 hours (or ten years) of practice are what separates great achievers from everyone else:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kq2n1Jlx5P0

Daniel Blair of Blair Academy for the Arts has a great way of putting it:
“You think you are paying for someone to teach little Johnny how to play an instrument. We are actually teaching Johnny how to practice his instrument. Huge difference. Learning to practice at home is where the magic happens. It builds discipline, a healthy relationship with commitment to growth, concrete skills that can translate into income later in life…all this doesn’t happen during the lesson – it happens at home with CONSISTENT effort over time (years). Lesson time is used to give golden nuggets of knowledge, and provide direction, inspiration and accountability.”
Read more at:
https://www.blairacademyforthearts.com/why-you-are-wasting-your-money-on-music-lessons/

Irene Mitchell

Alan Duncan said: Feb 12, 2016
Alan Duncan
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
63 posts

We recently faced a change in teachers because of a long-distance move. (In our case, however, our former teacher was wonderful; and moving was hard because of it.)

In anticipation of the move, we spent a lot of on email, the SAA teacher list, emailing teachers, talking on the phone, looking at outcomes of former students, talking to people in the community and sitting down and talking to teachers. It was important for us to get a sense of what the teachers’ goals and points of emphasis were. It gave us (and the teacher) a sense, too, of whether we can all work together effectively. We couldn’t be more pleased with how the extra leg-work paid off.

Maybe in talking with the teacher, ask specifics about what constitutes his/her criteria for advancement? Ask the teacher at the end of the lesson for 3-4 specific goals for the week’s practice to help everyone get on the same page vis-à-vis what constitutes progress. You could familiarize yourself with some of the types of things that could be regarded as criteria for progress. For example (and I’m not necessarily endorsing this particular set of criteria…): Rubric for Advancement

You asked about whether the absence of the teacher’s listing on this site is a negative. I’m pretty open-minded about teachers. I respect that massive amount of personal investment that Suzuki teachers put into training; and the outcomes are indisputable. Our family supports all things Suzuki. However, there are extremely qualified teachers out there who are philosophically-aligned with Suzuki, have a wealth of experience and student outcomes to back them up but aren’t listed here.

Mengwei said: Feb 15, 2016
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
127 posts

I’ve had several “older” students (they didn’t start as young as almost 4) who took about 2 years for book 1. They were all a ways into book 2 by recital time because early book 2 goes a lot faster than the late book 1 if book 1 has been prepared well. One who started at almost 4 and another at 2.5 are tracking for 3 years and 4 years, respectively, so at least in my experience, it isn’t out of line.

When I look at the students who are “taking longer” than these, it’s not about “acceptable pace” because that is rather subjective. I’m not checking a calendar but going by what is appropriate for the child’s skill development. Ed Kreitman says (paraphrase) that we can really only consider moving to the next piece to be progress when the child possesses all the skills necessary to play the next piece. “Moving on” too early can make things more difficult later.

There isn’t really enough lesson time to get into detailed pedagogy on a regular basis, but I do think a teacher should be able to explain when asked (for example, we’re playing Etude now, what needs to be in place for Minuet 1?). Also, different teachers will have different expectations. However, my take is that once you’ve been given the answer to the when can we move on question you’d better get on board with the plan or else don’t be surprised when we aren’t moving on! Few things are more frustrating than hearing that “oh, we didn’t practice that assignment…but we did this other thing that we felt was more important”.

Kirsten said: Feb 17, 2016
 Violin
103 posts

Well put Mengwei. I agree that it can take a 5 year old a good 2 years to get through book 1 even in the best of circumstances (daily practice and daily listening.) So the child is about 7 at the end of book 1. Of course some kids go faster or slower, and it really doesn’t matter in the end.

I want to respond to Tiya’s earlier comment about spending 20 minutes in lesson time reviewing and 10 minutes with the new piece. It might take about 9 minutes to play all of he pieces up to Long Long Ago if there was nothing to stop and talk about. And then it will take another 6 minutes to play to Etude if there is nothing to stop and talk about. That is 15 minutes. But generally students are still developing their ability in posture, bow hold, intonation, variations of bow speed and sound production. It is so nice to have a foundation of memorized pieces to use in discussing these things and working on improving these things. And we are lucky that different pieces in the repertoire address different issues in ability development. To spend 30% of the lesson on learning new notes and 70% of the lesson on learning to play the violin more easily makes sense in book 1. When we do this it does make book 2 so much easier.

Kirsten

Mengwei said: Feb 19, 2016
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
127 posts

One of my 2-years-for-book-1 kids flew through books 2 and 3 in a year and it wasn’t just playing notes either. The book 1 preparation was totally worth it. I wish the family could get to an institute master class where I could find out what to do with a musically intuitive child who inhales new material.

On the other hand, I did have a 6 year old who, once she figured out the logic of the instrument, started breezing through notes and was quite content to pick up book 2 pieces after hearing them a few times at group. She also had an “intuitive” musical sense and had much better understanding of bow speed/amount/contact point than typical book 1 students. Her biggest challenge was that if she figured out notes incorrectly, it was EXTREMELY hard to change. It was basically impossible to stop her from trying vibrato even though I did my best to work on the spotty intonation, tight LH, etc. The family left after 15 months when we were officially around the Minuets, but I feel like my best contribution was “teaching how to practice” as Irene’s link mentions because she clearly didn’t need my help in racing through pieces (and playing them mediocrely, unfortunately).

Ally Ci said: Feb 23, 2016
 7 posts

Hi Tiya, I’m only a Suzuki parent but I understand your frustration. We’ve had a pretty bad experience with our last year’s piano teacher who wanted to punish my 5 year old because she wasn’t reading music (although the teacher wouldn’t teach it during class). She went through three pieces the whole year, and held my daughter back from recitals. Also she cancelled a couple of classes and pretended she forgot about them.

Sorry for the rant on my own situation, just wanted to say I empathize. I wish there were a higher Suzuki authority where one could submit a complaint.

In the end, maybe the fact that your teacher dropped you might be the best thing for your daughter. We have the most amazing teacher this year and my daughter went from crying at the end of lessons and practices to looking forward to them.

Good luck to you!

Lauren said: Feb 24, 2016
Lauren Lamont
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Edmonds, WA
33 posts

Hello Tiya,
It delights me that so many teachers want to help you through your frustration :-) And I agree, how frustrating it can be. As mentioned previously, it can also be frustrating for the teacher. I don’t see 3 yrs to move through Book One being that long, given the starting age. Also something not mentioned in this conversation, is exactly how the practice at home is looking. A multitude of factors create successful home practice and should be a discussion between you and your teacher.

Two things I can offer to this conversation are:
1. When starting a new student (or transferred from another teacher), the parent and I have a scheduled Orientation session. In this paid 1 1/2 hr meeting, I cover many points like this in my orientation with the parent.

  1. I resorted to creating a list of the Key Technique Points I am looking to see developed in each piece in Book One. It’s not inclusive of all points, but offers a skeleton of technique I am striving to develop in the student. I found that this helped my parents understand our goals in each piece before moving on to the next piece. It just helped in the overall communication between myself and the parent.

One other thought, I commend you for questioning the authenticity of the Suzuki teacher. There are many teachers who use the books, but are not actually teaching the method. Those of us who do teach the method, have gone to great time, expense, and effort to be authentic in teaching the Suzuki method. We understand how the pieces are organized to teach a gradual logical acquisition of the technique needed to play well and with musicality. We understand and delight in sharing ideas and successes with each other. We LOVE what we do, and I don’t think many of us do it for the money. There are a lot of easier ways to make better income. I believe finding a teacher you feel you can trust totally will alleviate your frustration no matter what pace your daughter goes.

I will put in a plug here for the Parents As Partners videos currently going on from the SAA. I believe these are so helpful, for parents and teachers alike. They address situations just like this one, and offer helpful, and fun, solutions.

Wishing you both the very best in your journey!

Gregory Guay said: Mar 3, 2016
Gregory Guay
Suzuki Association Member
Guitar
Mount Pleasant, SC
10 posts

Good to hear a parents concern, however I would let go of the suspicion that a teacher would hold a student back for income longevity—considering there are over 9 more books to go through!
It’s tricky, as a teacher, to move on to the next song after a student has learned the song but not the technique and musical maturity that we had hoped would develop with it.
I wish your post included a video of your child playing—I bet some of us would love to hear/see her and a video of her performing may be worth a thousand words !
Best wishes on your adventure, challenges and all!

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