Suzuki Book 1 Violin

Akiko Graves said: Mar 14, 2016
 1 posts

I’m a mom of a seven-year old boy My son has been taking private violin lessons since he started kindergarten, and it has been over 2 and a half years. I am frustrated that he has not finished book 1 yet. We practice almost every day although he is not very excited about it. I understand Book 1 has a lot to learn, but 2 and a half years seems a bit too long. His teacher sometimes takes longer time off, so it is not technically straight 2 and a half years, but at this point, I am very stressed. I am afraid that my son was getting bored and he is not showing enthusiasm anymore. His teacher started teaching him reading notes really late. His reading level is far behind his playing level, which is also frustrating. His lessons have been repeating his teacher a few notes at a time, and in average, they go only 2 measures per lesson. What are your thoughts?

Marian Goss said: Mar 19, 2016
Marian Goss
Suzuki Association Member
41 posts

As a Suzuki teacher and a Suzuki mom, I can tell you that two years in book 1 is not uncommon. I have a daughter who took 3 and a half years to finish piano book 1. There are many factors that go into a student’s speed of progress: practice habits, the age at which they start, child’s learning style, teaching style, listening to the CD. Remember that what we are teaching the children is not necessarily a set of songs but a set of skills but they will use to learn new material. So much depends on how long it takes the student to master a skill.
I would most definitely have a discussion with you child’s teacher about his progress. Maybe there’s something that is not getting done at home even though you may be practicing with him daily.
When you say that the teacher will always play an example first and expect your son to follow, is this the way your son learns the pieces? In my studio, the children are supposed to learn the notes at home. I always tell them that their job is to learn the notes and I will help them with the rest. I could not imagine teaching all my students every note of every piece they play. That just is not practical.

As far as note reading is concerned, I think that most Suzuki teachers would agree that it is far more important to teach our children how to play the violin than to read music. Anyone can learn to read music. Not everyone can learn how to play the violin well. It is a necessary but separate skill that I delay until the child is ready. There are so many other things to consider before note reading is even started -intonation, set up, body awareness, bow hold, tone, ear training ect. Once there is a page of Music in front of a child, they usually cannot focus on all of these important things. I would not worry about your child’s reading level at this point. Focus on him being confident with his violin playing and the rest will fall into place.

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

These are some good past discussions on the subject of how long book 1 “should” take:

(Summary: Merietta Oviatt says, “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…”)

If your stress is due to his not meeting your expectations, consider that regardless of your expectations, he will learn at the pace described by Merietta and that it’s easier for you, the adult, to change. What can be realistically expected depends on a lot of factors (the child’s flexibility/adaptability/teachability, mastery of certain physical skills, hand-eye-ear coordination, our overall attitude, routine, environment, etc.) that ultimately you would need to discuss with your teacher. I didn’t see listening and review mentioned, which in my studio would be critical parts of the learning plan.

If it’s you who is getting bored and unenthusiastic, first know that it’s completely legitimate and not wrong to get discouraged! However, children can pick up on and be influenced by adults’ attitudes, and it won’t help if you are transmitting boredom and frustration (whether consciously or not). I’m not suggesting to act fake, but if this is a journey you are committed to taking, you might try checking what kinds of signals you’re sending through your words, nonverbal language, direct actions, etc. (Again, a discussion with your teacher on “where you are going” could help.)

Reading—ask your teacher for an overall reading plan, if you want to know. I explain to my studio parents that during book 1, our focus is to work on the mechanics of operating the instrument without being sidetracked by interpreting symbols/notation. We do some pre-reading activities but don’t “read and play” until book 2 because you really need a comfort level with the physical aspect before adding another layer of multitasking. Even then we start with things that are a lot easier than book 2. Children are fluent with speech well before they can read competently, and they continue to develop their reading skills through many years of schooling. It’s the same idea with Suzuki and music reading.

By the way, not too many young children (and sometimes even adults) truly enjoy practicing, but they like being able to do something well. Of course, it takes practice to get there! Most children can’t be left alone to accomplish something difficult, so that’s why teachers and parents are around to guide them (and enforce practicing until they understand it for themselves).

Alan Duncan said: Mar 22, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
81 posts

I honestly can’t remember how long it took for my daughter to finish Book 1—probably about 2 years from age 3 to 5. We spent what seemed like months just getting all of the Twinkle rhythms consistently on the rhythmic sticks , let alone with the violin. But then there was a burst of progress after the Twinkle hurdle. Then a lot of ups and downs for the next maybe two years.

She did start basic note reading in the latter half of Book 1 but she didn’t apply it to the learning of a new piece in Book 1. Even by the end of Book 2 her teacher insisted that her first pass at a new piece be by ear. So listening was critical—and still is, albeit for evolving reasons.

The only thing that raises my curiosity is about the note-by-note process in the lesson. This wasn’t our experience. The student was expected to do that work at home based their listening.

I’m not a teacher, so I can’t say all of the factors that go into the decisions about when to move students on to a new piece, but I agree with other comments about how we as parents can unconsciously convey expectations about progress. As the result of a long-distance move, we changed teachers just after the beginning of Book 4. There were certain things that the new teacher wanted her to work more diligently on before moving on through the repertoire. I realized at that point we were unintentionally defining progress largely as moving from piece-to-piece just by the way would talk about lessons and practice, etc. We make a special effort to talk about progress in terms of technique now.

Heather said: Mar 30, 2016
 11 posts

For what it’s worth. My twins started Suzuki at age 4 and it took 3.5 years to move on to book 2 and start learning Chorus. There was the twinkle year and it ended with the Gavotte year. It was a long haul and now I get to do it all over again with my 5 year old.

Gloria said: Mar 30, 2016
Suzuki Association Member
75 posts

Heather, I think you will find that the whole experience with your 5 yo is not the same as the first time around: you are not the same mom (more experience, different expectations), your 5 year old is not the twins, AND specially your 5 year old has had the benefit of years of exposure to the Suzuki environment. And that changes everything.
And, yes, the beginnings can seem slow for our goal oriented (sometimes obsessed with goals and deadlines) adult minds. Just consider the time and care it takes for a child to master all the things it learns. It takes time, and we the adults can learn so much from that process. When the environment is the right one, things will move along. Not everything the child accomplishes is visible.

Heather said: Apr 1, 2016
 11 posts

Gloria, It’s been a whole new ballgame. I now understand my twins were into music. My 5 really good care less, but it’s easier for him to pick up because of the exposure. I’m going to have to explore what I can do to do motivate my little guy. I’m much more laid back with him.
I did make a boardgame for him. We’ll see how it goes.

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