Violin Note Reading, Scales and Arpeggios?

Claire Devries said: May 31, 2017
 16 posts

Dear parents, I’m new to the forum. My son started Suzuki violin last year in the summer and in book 1 (etude). He is almost 6 years old. He shows a lot of interest in music/note reading and his teacher ok-ed it (although not specifically discussing how, she suggested some books “I can read music” and “quickstep to note reading”). I wonder if anyone have any input in regards to this?

Also, how useful it is to start practicing scales and arpeggios regularly as part of daily practice? HIs teacher never emphasize this, but I played classical piano as a child for 18 years (and as many do, no longer play any music until now), so I’m familiar with the utilities of scales, arpeggios, etc. in regards of reading music more effectively, and as finger exercises—but this may not apply to violin and I don’t know much about violin until my son takes lessons. Any input would be greatly appreciated—thanks in advance.

Marian Goss said: Jun 1, 2017
Marian Goss
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
29 posts

If you’ve looked in the Suzuki books, you will see there are some scales for the students to practice but they are related to the keys that the pieces are in. For instance, you will see a D major scale just before students learn Allegretto and the G scale just before students learn Etude. There is also an arpeggio exercise written just before May song as that is applicable to the piece. As far as a daily regimen of scales and arpeggios, Suzuki firmly believed that the majority of our techniques, at least early on, come from the pieces themselves. That’s part of the beauty of the method….you can learn techniques without boring scale books and Etude books. The pieces serve as technique studies on their own. Certainly as a studemt progresses and learns to shift and play in different Keys, you will need to address specific skills that can be found and specific Etude books.

Joanne Shannon said: Jun 2, 2017
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Los Angeles, CA
36 posts

I start scales and keys when my piano students are in book 2. Book 1 is the most important “miracle” book which gives students the foundation they need for advanced skills. Don’t rush through it!

Claire Devries said: Jun 2, 2017
 16 posts

Thank you Marian for your input: I agree, the songs are such that arpeggios and scales are incorporated in it. What I’m wondering about is the utility of those with respect to note reading. Any thought?

Thank you Joanne for your thoughts, I should be more clear that my son is taking violin lesson (I took piano 30+ years ago, but not Suzuki method). And yes, we are enjoying book 1 and will continue to do so for as long as he needs to.

Mengwei Shen said: Jun 3, 2017
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
140 posts

It wouldn’t hurt to ask your teacher for more specific information on how to go about reading. I promote the (relatively new) Pattern Play for Strings books for reading whenever I can and in another thread have explained more about what’s in there and why I like it: https://suzukiassociation.org/discuss/38927/

The beauty of Suzuki is that techniques are in the pieces. Even the name “Etude” means technical study—string crossings, scale (step) patterns, arpeggio patterns, the “new 2″ (I no longer call it “low 2″ but that’s another story). What I find particularly useful is using scales to get students to slow down and listen to their sound (especially intonation). Yes, they are supposed to do that with pieces but which teacher doesn’t know a student that just wants to play through as fast as s/he can?? (and why wouldn’t they—after repeatedly hearing the recording at regular tempo) So if I treat scales as something to be done slowly with extra careful listening, it gives students/parents another tool to get that kind of practice done (without fighting about pieces).

Claire Devries said: Jun 3, 2017
 16 posts

Mengwei, Thank you for your reply. I cannot access the link on the discussion you mentioned on your reply, but I plan to ask the teacher further instruction in note reading. I was just looking to see if there are any usual time to introduce note reading to Suzuki violin students (i.e. to coincide with a certain book, etc.).

As a side note, yes, I’m a bit baffled on why the recording tempo is so fast especially book 1 for beginners?? If listening is a big part of the method, it only makes sense to me to have the tempo appropriate for beginner learner (or at least make that available, instead of the fast tempo).

Moreover, the vibrato in the recording should also be eliminated because now my son wants to mimic the sound (and of course he has not learned vibrato). Again, if music listening is such a big part of the method, it should be at least an accurate reflection of what the student is expected to play (i.e. without vibrato)—I’m only speaking for book 1, of course. That’s just from me, as a first-time Suzuki parent’s perspective.

Mengwei Shen said: Jun 3, 2017
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
140 posts

Here is the information on Pattern Play that I’ve copied/edited from the other post:

I LOVE Pattern Play for Strings by Winifred Crock, especially the Suzuki-like gradual sequence of concepts and pattern/interval focus before individual notes. Finger numbers and note names are mentioned but are not the emphasis. You need a vocabulary of numbers and letters but true 5-line staff music reading is notes on the staff (and other musical directions and symbols). To do that, you need to know what to do with them, not only what they are.

Lessons 1-4 in the student book are rhythms only. LH/RH coordination doesn’t need to be highly developed for that, so it’s good for getting started on visual tracking, counting, etc. either on or off the instrument. For example, read (say the rhythm syllables) with me pointing each note, read with me pointing each measure, read with the student pointing, read without pointing. Then, clap or tap with and without saying the rhythm syllables, without and without pointing. (Next, play on open strings, any fingered note, etc.)

Starting Lesson 5, we go through tetrachord patterns (violin A or D string, up to 3 fingers): identifying same or different notes, patterns going up or down, steps or skips (asking them to verbalize what they see on the page before playing it). In the parent/teacher book, there are example lesson plans for steady beat, rhythm, relating sounds and symbols, relating pitches and fingers, etc. It’s very step by step and breaks down the understanding of concepts that we adult musicians may take for granted. Like with Suzuki, if the student doesn’t need a step, you can combine/skip it, or if a step is too big, you find smaller steps for the student who needs it. You can reuse the material and add different “layers” of challenge to it.

Every teacher has different “standards” for when to start reading. I’ve been starting Pattern Play no earlier than Perpetual Motion. Around this time, we’ve also transposed everything to D major (in preparation for Allegretto/Andantino), played French Folk Song (by ear), and done a lot of steady beat and rhythm activities in group class, and I think that gives them mininum physical and musical skill development to start playing by reading. (Typically, my students would be at least age 6 by this time.) I still expect Suzuki pieces to be learned primarily through listening. In the case of weak posture/tone/intonation, I would further delay reading.

After Pattern Play books 1 & 2 (or if skipped because of age/level), I assign ICRM the way I learned in teacher training: to pass, each page is to be played all the way through, without stopping between lines, without mistakes or hesitations (yes, it’s easy at first with only A’s and B’s). They are to do it themselves and I usually forget to check. In order to play a page to this “passing” criteria, they eventually have to be figuring out the interval relationships. Pattern Play flips this around, focusing on patterns and intervals first and letting single note identification be secondary.

Mengwei Shen said: Jun 3, 2017
Mengwei Shen
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Piano, Cello
Jersey City, NJ
140 posts

As for the recording tempo, a close analogy would be: when you read a story or speak to a child in regular speech (excluding baby talk to infants and such), you probably don’t: read in monotone, speak too slowly, completely limit yourself to the child’s known vocabulary, etc. You might slow down slightly and avoid using big words, but the point is you don’t get rid of all inflection and expression and you still say things the child doesn’t understand. Listening is not only for pitch and rhythm but overall flow and nuances of musical language.

Most of my students know (can sing) Mary Had a Little Lamb. Assuming the physical skills are in place, most are able to (given the starting note C#) pick out the notes of the first phrase—because they know how it goes and they can test the sounds made by using different fingers and hear if the pitch matches what they are expecting. Most are not picking out notes at the speed at which they can sing, but they are clearly capable of learning by ear. Once they have found the correct sequence of notes, they have to repeat so that it becomes easier (and this further strengthens the ear-hand connection, so that next time they will be faster at finding notes). If they aren’t picking out notes of book 1 pieces, usually that means: 1) not listening enough (i.e. don’t “know how it goes”) or 2) not spending time trying to figure it out (many children don’t realize on their own this is something they can and should be doing). So that is why they should still listen even if the tempo is “too fast”.

Another thing is no child will play on a fractional size violin with full size professional violinist tone, yet you wouldn’t rely on a child-performed recording as a model to learn from. There is no doubt a slower tempo would help but I’m sure there are production and musical decisions why the current tempos are chosen. Many parents use software/apps to slow down the recording and teachers might record certain spots for students to use as a practice aid.

Claire Devries said: Jun 4, 2017
 16 posts

Mengwei, thank you so much for your thorough explanation on note reading and recording tempo.

Back to note reading: this weekend we casually tried note reading using ICRM book 1 (a hand-me-down from a neighbor—otherwise we probably won’t specifically look for other books until our teacher told us so), and, to my surprise, my son breezed through the first 15-20 lesson on book 1 (what I mean by breezing through is that he played through without mistake/hesitation—just like you said above—about 75 bpm on the metronome), that is only after I explain to him the names of the note and the location (which he already knew anyway). I think I can safely say that we’ll follow through with this. Rhythm seems to come easily for him, maybe slightly less so with pattern but that one wasn’t too much of a trouble, either, he usually gets it the second time around. I’ll check if we need to supplement with other books such as PPS but I’m very encouraged so far.

About Suzuki recording, I appreciate your thorough input on this. I know there’s a reason about the tempo and the polished recordings. You actually pointed right to the one functionality of the recording that we often use: we do play-along from the CD to supplement our practice (i.e. son will play along the recording together with piano accompaniment) but he could only follow so much as the tempo is so much faster (PM was the first snag, then of course, etude, etc. ). I will try to check out slow-down apps/software for this purpose. Thanks again for your thoughtful input.

Joanne Shannon said: Jun 4, 2017
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Los Angeles, CA
36 posts

I understand that you are talking about the violin. However, a lot of the above comments apply to all of the Suzuki repertoire. My students are expected to polish each piece at the tempo of the recordings and takes a little longer than violin because we have to learn a left hand part…but the violin has to use both hands too, just different jobs. If they don’t hear the proper tempo it is difficult for the to obtain it…just like talking as Mengwei mentioned. My students also locate all their new pieces on the piano with one finger before I let them use the fingering. The ear training level is really developed. Also, usually the biggest reason a student cannot play at the recording tempo is there hasn’t been enough slow practice. If they are still looking for the notes they are not ready to go faster.

Friederike said: Jun 5, 2017
Friederike Lehrbass
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Plano, TX
73 posts

We love the step by step (book.1-3)(Recital training( 4-5) which include ptactice helps in the book and the CD. It also had accpmpaniment for 2 speeds: slow practice tempo and performance tempo(which I think is slower than the regular CD. It has been a great addition.

Praise the Lord with the stringed instrument

Claire Devries said: Jun 5, 2017
 16 posts

Joanne, thanks for your input, I think it makes sense to have lots of slow tempo practices.

Friederike, thanks for the “Step by Step” book suggestion, I will look into it (the CD is definitely a plus, esp with the slower-tempo piano accompaniment). It sounds just like what I’m looking for!

Anita Knight said: Jun 6, 2017
Anita Knight
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Kent, WA
22 posts

I wholeheartedly endorse the Step by Step books! They have transformed my teaching on many counts. Kirsten Wartberg studied with Dr. Suzuki and was specifically authorized by him to publish these.
Their unique aspects are: Each song is learned in 3 tempos—with piano accompaniment —slow and med practice tempo, and performance tempo (at an appropriate beginner tempo).
Each new difficult technical or musical aspect of the piece is isolated and rehearsed (often with accompaniment.).
These 2 elements cause students to rehearse the ‘tricky spots’ AND learn the piece at a reasonable practice tempo “at the speed where you can’t get it wrong”—and, since they’re playing it with the recording, they won’t be rushing through it!
Just imagine the implications of that!

Regarding scales, these are prepared and taught most brilliantly through “Finger Dances” 0-1-0-1-0-1-0—. 1-2-1-2-1-2-1—… giving time to repeat each note enough times to hear the proper intonation and actually FIX IT! (with delightful piano accompaniment making it sound like a ‘piece’).

I’ve done training under Kersten Wartberg, and I simply cannot say enough about the brilliance and genius of these books—in my opinion it takes Dr. Suzuki’s method to a whole new level, making it all the more accessible for students and teachers alike!

Anita Knight
“Joyful Sound Violin Studio”

Claire Devries said: Jun 7, 2017
 16 posts

Anita, thanks so much for your insight!! You definitely made me look into the “Step by Step” book more closely. One question: do you think we can start off the book right where we are on book 1? Seems like the “Step by Step” book is sequential/building from previous technique to the next. Not that I mind it as a parent, truly, but my son often has such short window of time during practice each day when he can focus (after all, he is still in kindergarten). At this point, our focus is for him to thoroughly enjoy the musical experience, having fun playing while still leaning the technique one step at a time (and not to overwhelm him).

In hindsight, I think this is perhaps why his teacher delay music reading (because it is yet another thing on top of already intense daily practice for him), but now that I realize he is ready, I still have to make sure I don’t put too much things on his plate. Does this make sense? Thanks for your input once again.

Joanne Shannon said: Jun 7, 2017
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Los Angeles, CA
36 posts

I just picked this up somewhere:

“If you practice something slowly, you forget it slowly. If you practice something fast, you forget it fast.”…Itzhak Perlman

I have this taped to my piano.

Claire Devries said: Jun 8, 2017
 16 posts

“If you practice something slowly, you forget it slowly. If you practice something fast, you forget it fast.”…Itzhak Perlman

Joanne, I really like this! Thank you for sharing.

Patricia Walser said: Jun 17, 2017
Patricia Walser
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
6 posts

I usually start with note reading towards the end of Book 1 as the child is ready to do so. When they want to read in their Suzuki book at this level, I stress to the parent that the book is for the parent to help them, they shouldn’t even realize there is a book. (:

The note reading series I use is called “Adventures in Music Reading for Violin” by Bill Starr and there are 3 books in the series. He has set it up in duet form so the kids can learn the top line, and then the teacher plays the bottom line—then they go back and work on the other part. So they are not only learning to read, but learning to play with another part. There are several ways to work on this in the beginning . . . and I have the child play their assigned page/s at each lesson with me as their duet partner.

With most of my students by the time they have moved through 2 books, we don’t even need the third book and I just move them at that time into a scale book. I also use “Scales Plus! for Violin” by Bill Starr—and when they are more advanced we use Barbara Barbers scale book. This would be more like Bk 4 -5 level depending on the child.

As mentioned earlier in this thread , there are scales etc throughout Bk 1 to help and as we get into the key of D, I have them review all of their previous pieces from Twinkles up to Allegretto in D.

Claire Devries said: Jun 17, 2017
 16 posts

Patricia, thank you for your input. It is very interesting to see how teachers approach note reading. And reviewing songs in D major does seem like a good idea!

Joanne Shannon said: Jun 19, 2017
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Los Angeles, CA
36 posts

When my students start piano book 2 and a reading book, they also start scales. Each week they work on a different scale. We go round the circle of 5ths.

  1. one octave scale
  2. Write it out (this also helps with reading)
  3. Play the chord progression (I-V-I) (arpeggio style for violins)
  4. Play first piece in book 1 in key of the scale. (the original key of the piece)

When we get back to the original key, we start over using the 2nd piece in book 1.
By the time we get to the 3rd piece in book l, the scale is 4 octaves and the chord progression is I—IV- V7—I. We have also added inversions & arpeggios. When we get through all that we move to the minor keys. I keep a chart on my piano to keep all this straight (in my own head). Some of my advanced students are playing book 2 pieces in all the keys. This is a great way to teach practical theory.
I have a paper that I have developed over the years called Writing Scales. It’s pretty basic and if you follow every step in order, even a 6 or 7 year old can do it. I’d be happy to send anyone a copy.

Maureen said: Jun 20, 2017
Maureen Riley
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Nashville, TN
2 posts

I would love to receive the paper you mentioned called Writing Scales. Thank you so much!

Claire Devries said: Jun 20, 2017
 16 posts

Joanne, what a brilliant way to reinforce reading by writing (duh! we do this at school all the time with English writing/reading.. ). I ditto Maureen and would you kindly let us know how to get the paper “Writing Scales”? Thank you for sharing.

Joanne Shannon said: Jun 20, 2017
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Los Angeles, CA
36 posts

Writing Scales

Here it is ( I hope this link works!) and of course, this is on constant revision. Excuse the blues scales…..I teach a little jazz to my older students. In fact, after my students finish the Methode Rose book and start Czerny, I start them in the “Jack & Jill Jazz for Piano” by Lee Evans……it starts with Twinkle and is terrific for learning to read rhythm….it’s not as easy as it looks! When kids are finished with this book they really know what 1 e & da is all about!

Laura Kuennen-Poper said: Jun 23, 2017
Laura Kuennen-Poper
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Oberlin, OH
2 posts

With young students (ages up through age 6 or 7) I usually start note-reading when a child has reached two milestones:
1. Reading chapter books at school; and
2. The violin and bow holds are well established.

The reasoning is as follows:
The ability to look at an abstract symbol and ascribe meaning to it is a fairly sophistical bit of brain use. I wait until the child is reading books comfortably, because that tells me that her/his brain is ready for note-reading.

Secondly, the moment the child starts looking at notes on a page there is less ability to focus on holding the bow and violin correctly. The mind is so focused on reading the music that other things can fly out the window. (By the way, this usually happens around the end of Book 1—perhaps earlier for a few, perhaps later for a few).

Joanne Shannon said: Jun 23, 2017
Joanne Shannon
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
Los Angeles, CA
36 posts

That’s why I like Music Mind Games. Students have fun learning the basics of note reading. When they finally get that reading book in front of them, the symbols look very familiar to them.

Kiyoko said: Jul 12, 2017
 85 posts

Just another tool, if you looking for something informal and fun:

There is a mobile device app (iOS, android, Amazon) called Endless Music from the group called Originator that teaches some basic note names using nursery tunes. It also exposes kids to a music staff where the notes you place say their name and pitch. While the pitches are synthesized (e.g., tempered, not true), it taught my kid some early ear and note training. (A parent doesn’t have to know what to teach either.)

It might be good for even younger kids (2-3+ years old, depending on the child) —it wasn’t out when my kid was this young but he was able to easily navigate another app by the same group, Endless Alphabet by 2 years.

For me, it felt like formal training in music theory started way late in my opinion. Some don’t get a lot even until they reach college, or at least in my day. I started seriously learning music theory in late junior high, early high school and wish I had been started much earlier by my teachers. It improved my playing, intonation, sight reading, and understanding of music a ton. By college, I could easily pickup anything I heard… (Thank you, Mrs. Krahmalkov!)

Like others, my kid is really into music. He very much enjoys the app, when we let him play with it (yes, we limit iPad time.) By the time I showed my kid a basic scale with letters, he was eager to learn more.

But at a young age, it’s all about enjoying music…

Kurt Meisenbach said: Jul 12, 2017
Kurt Meisenbach
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
Chacra La Diva Maldonado, Uruguay
23 posts

Claire, there are many opinions on the issues of music reading and scale practice. None are necessarily right or wrong—it depends on the student and the teacher. Each of us needs to find our own way based on our own experience, convictions, private research, and most importantly, what we have found that works.

Having said that, I personally introduce music reading and scales very early in my teaching method—before the student finishes Twinkle. Nothing heavy, obviously, but some friendly introductions that make it easy and fun for the young student.

I am US Music conservatory trained and played professionally for 12 years in the US in my early music life before starting a business career in the US and Europe. I now teach Suzuki and traditional violin and viola in Punta del Este Uruguay.

The culture in Latin America is different from the US, and for this reason I am developing a series of colorful, picture intensive method books for my students and their parents to make it fun for the students to learn and easier for the parents to become better teachers at home in a shorter period of time.

These materials have been very successful here in Uruguay, but I have not yet tested them with an English speaking North American audience. The materials are in Spanish currently, and I plan to translate them into English in the near future. They are very thorough and are progressively organized to walk the students and parents gradually through the basic concepts of music reading, music theory and scale practice. I also have a number of exercises to help the student develop a stronger and better tone.

The materials are designed to be a companion to the Suzuki materials, and not a replacement to them. The student will still need to purchase the appropriate Suzuki Book at the same level of study.

If you are interested, I can send you some samples of the materials for you to review.

Claire Devries said: Jul 12, 2017
 16 posts

Kiyoko, thank you for sharing the app! We love Endless Alphabet and will look into Endless Music. I also appreciate you sharing your experience about music theory.

Kurt, thank you for sharing your thought as well about music reading. It gives me confidence that our teacher knows what’s best for my son at this particular moment. I would very much like to see your material, I appreciate your generosity of sharing them with me. Please advice and many thanks!

Carol said: Jul 15, 2017
Carol Preston
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Damariscotta, ME
12 posts

I have used Quick Steps and I Can Read Music for decades. I like the second because in each lesson (in Vol. 1) it has separate pages for rhythm and pitch—so students focus on one thing at a time.

Claudia Ferguson said: Jul 15, 2017
Claudia Ferguson
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
San Antonio, TX
7 posts

I teach Suzuki and use Essential Elements to teach reading when they are reading in school. It does start on the D string, but almost all of my students find that exciting. Also, then they have the same reading skills as their fellow school students when they get into local youth orchestra…we have one for younger kids and they want them to be able to play in D Major and read in D to start. I skip to Essential Skills Level 3 when I begin teaching shifting.

Claudia Ferguson, Violin Teacher
San Antonio Suzuki Violin School
[javascript protected email address]
(210) 391-2382

Tanya said: Jul 16, 2017
Tanya CareyTeacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
Glen Ellyn, IL
37 posts

I have recently published Sight-Reading is Easy for Violin (Viola, Cello and Bass). I have used this material for decades to produce excellent readers and there is a component of scale and theory concepts. There is a pre-book for the younger set of 100 games in the areas of Pitch, Rhythm, Musical Symbols which comes with the materials for the games. This is string specific and has a unit on scales and intervals. I am happy to send you the outline of the series if you are interested. Write me.

Blaise Poth said: Jul 16, 2017
Blaise PothInstitute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Suzuki in the Schools
Louisville, KY
8 posts

Tanya I am interested. Thanks, Blaise

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