Teaching Suzuki to blind students

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Alicia Rattin said: Jul 27, 2006
 Violin, Flute
Southbridge, MA
1 posts

I was wondering if anyone has experience teaching Suzuki violin to blind students?

said: Jul 27, 2006
 26 posts

Lois Shepheard (Melbourne, Australia) taught at the Royal Victorian Institute for the Blind for many years, and gave an address at the 1987 conference in Berlin on the topic. I don’t know if the SAA has any of those lectures in their video library—perhaps worth checking.

Lois is an extraordinarily gifted Suzuki teacher, and actually specialised in teaching children with multiple disabilities—many were completely blind AND severely mentally handicapped.

The amazing thing is that these students reached post Book 10 repertoire. Just amazing.

said: Jul 27, 2006
 22 posts

I think that although, of course, it would be an extra challenge to teach a blind person to play the violin, it would be really neat to see just how far the ‘learning by ear’ thing went. Does anybody have any experience on this? (Great topic, violingirl!)

“Practice! Practice until you go crazy….then do it five more times.”

Corinne said: Aug 1, 2006
 Violin, Piano
44 posts

I know a Suzuki-taught pianist who is blind. We had the same teacher & attended an institute together. At that point she was 12 years old and playing book 6. She’s since finished book 7 and gone on to advanced material. She also plays violin and viola at an advanced level.

Rachel Schott said: Oct 10, 2006
Rachel SchottViolin
Harrogate, TN
127 posts

I have been teaching a blind student for the past few years. Learning by ear, parent-teachers, and the grow-at-your-own-pace approach sure make Suzuki Method a good fit.

Our biggest challenges have been the technical and spatial ones. A simple instruction like ‘reach out your hand’ or ‘move your feet apart from one another’ is very tough, as she has no reference for what is going on outside of her body. She played on a much too large instrument without ANY instruction for a year before she came to me…and played this way many hours a day, so we have had to work very hard to overcome some other challanges.

Teaching ‘E’ has been rewarding, maddening, emotional, thrilling experience. She is competely driven by music (and holds some developmental issues, too). This makes everything but actually playing songs distressing to her. However, we are always learning from each other and I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

said: Nov 7, 2006
 2 posts

Hi. My name is al justice. I’m an adult Suzuki(ish) student, but wanted to jump in here.. For some odd reason which I will never likely figure out, three of the most important musical influences in my life have been blind musicians.

The first was the daughter of baby-sitter when I was a toddler. She taught me to play by ear, and we have been friends my entire life. The next was a classical guitarist in college who got me playin Bourees and Sarabande on guitar. The third was a friend I made after college, who is decidedly the most gifted position and chord expert I could ever imagine.

I play piano, guitar, banjo, and have studied violin for around two years now. I’m using Suzuki as an adult among other materials like Wohlfahrt and so on. The moral of ‘my’ story, is that through the use of Suzuki my sight reading has begun coming online, if slowly. It is sort of a reverse play on meanings, or some varation there, that for me it’s like I was blind….

And this ‘ear’ factor important to blind students, speaks not only through Suzuki but the broader nature of music in general. It is sort of like some inner eye thing going on that makes these students each absolutely brilliant in their own ways. My piano friend, knows literally hundreds of hymns, can play them in whatever key she wishes, and so on and so on. The same is true of my guitar chord and position expert friend. And to some extent this is true of my classical guitar buddy.

The bottom line in my mind, is that this ear factor creates valid questions and areas surrounding the possibilities in expanding Suzuki notions in all directions. I’ve just had so much intense fun and pleasure even getting through Suzuki II. But it’s not the satisfaction as much as having this mature instinctive feeling that something important remains underdeveloped among the possibilites that Suzuki makes available.

And this ear factor for me also suggests that something is poorly understood about the way people learn in more traditional method approaches. Obviously, my friend is my friend, her remarkable talent is not a half-done biscuit, and I’ve learned to sight read alot better because of Suzuki.

I am not qualified, nor do I wish to comment on the inner workings of other methods, but I do know that as we have over the past few decades explored the ways people learn much more intently, that somewhere in there are possibilities already proven for Suzuki for the disabled, as well as the adult. It’s a fascinating discussion, that is somewhat like a door half-open.

al

Anyway,

Laura said: Nov 10, 2006
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Thanks for sharing your experience, Al!

I wholeheartedly agree, and I will add this to my arsenal of stories that I use every time I interview new parents who seem shocked that their children won’t be learning to read music right away, as if there is something wrong with that.

As mother-tongue theory goes, we learn to speak before we learn—or need to learn—to read. If we never learn to read, we can still speak and listen. That is the essence of the language: the sound part. The visual part is merely an aid, but not necessary to the language itself.

Music is the same way. If you know how to read music, you will be able to learn music visually, and communicate it to others that way—a highly valuable skill that definitely should be taught. But the whole point of music is to play “from the heart”, and no musician worth his salt wants to play with his nose stuck on the printed page. It’s no way to be free!

Most of the non-musically-educated world learns music by ear anyway. It’s like how people learn rap, hip-hop, line-dancing, movie tunes, etc. The whole point is that you learn to do it through example and experience, and soon you’re doing it yourself and loving it. Separating out music reading from the equation really streamlines that process. When it is time to learn music reading as a skill later on, it will happen more naturally because the student will already have an inherent understanding of what all of those squiggles and lines actually refer to. But it’s not absolutely necessary in and of itself.

The fact that many blind students become excellent musicians illustrates the point beautifully. This is why I love Suzuki. This is also why I am sad when I hear Suzuki-bashing sentiments from other teachers and parents. I think it’s simply a case of severe misunderstanding.

said: Nov 10, 2006
 2 posts

purple_tulips

Thanks for sharing your experience, Al!

I wholeheartedly agree, and I will add this to my arsenal of stories that I use every time I interview new parents who seem shocked that their children won’t be learning to read music right away, as if there is something wrong with that.

As mother-tongue theory goes, we learn to speak before we learn—or need to learn—to read. If we never learn to read, we can still speak and listen. That is the essence of the language: the sound part. The visual part is merely an aid, but not necessary to the language itself.

Music is the same way. If you know how to read music, you will be able to learn music visually, and communicate it to others that way—a highly valuable skill that definitely should be taught. But the whole point of music is to play “from the heart”, and no musician worth his salt wants to play with his nose stuck on the printed page. It’s no way to be free!

Most of the non-musically-educated world learns music by ear anyway. It’s like how people learn rap, hip-hop, line-dancing, movie tunes, etc. The whole point is that you learn to do it through example and experience, and soon you’re doing it yourself and loving it. Separating out music reading from the equation really streamlines that process. When it is time to learn music reading as a skill later on, it will happen more naturally because the student will already have an inherent understanding of what all of those squiggles and lines actually refer to. But it’s not absolutely necessary in and of itself.

The fact that many blind students become excellent musicians illustrates the point beautifully. This is why I love Suzuki. This is also why I am sad when I hear Suzuki-bashing sentiments from other teachers and parents. I think it’s simply a case of severe misunderstanding.

Thanks, I think you just went ahead and told “the rest of the story” about how exactly the ear thing works. Honestly, I hadn’t really broken it down that far in terms of popular v. visual, but you’ve put tokens on meanings…

Having competed to qualify up through World Wide Level of the Air Force Tops in Blues program (self-trained classical piano) also suggests that you may use this example with authority. It’s sort of cute that as a child, I use to play with my eyes closed so as to be like my friend. And I’m 100% certain that my tactile senses comes directly from her as well. And finally, it feels a little strange going through this world of can’t, when I’m living can-to…

al

Lois Shepheard said: Mar 13, 2013
 Teacher Trainer
Suzuki Association Member
13 posts

All the above comments are interesting and valid.
I’d like to add that visually impaired students I’ve taught, also learned to read Braille music. I generally started this when they’d finished about Suzuki Book 3. I had some Suzuki violin books put into Braille, as well as some beginner reading books.
When I was teaching these children I learned to read literary Braille. Music Braille, however, is quite cumbersome! I was trying hard—then found a nice, blind piano teacher. I sent her all my blind students for theory lessons, and merely checked their reading ability in their violin lessons.
I particularly agree with the comments made by Rachel Scott. The biggest ‘problem’ to be overcome with sightless students is the spatial one.

Kiyoko said: Mar 15, 2013
 84 posts

Heartwarming! Thanks for sharing!

I’m not visually impaired (except for glasses) but I do play by feel as much as by ear. Suzuki gave me that.

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