What skills should a student in book 5 know?

said: May 29, 2009
 4 posts

Hi, I just located this forum, I hope someone can answer these questions. I’d prefer the answers come from Suzuki Instructors.

My 14 y/o child is in book 5, has been taking lessons for 3 years now. She takes lessons at the music academy where we live. A friend, who’s daughter is also in book 5, who had the same instructor, recently changed instructors. The new instructor asked where she was on a certain skill (I don’t remember what it was) and she said,”What’s that?”. We have heard there are other things she should know but doesn’t.

This brings me to my questions.

  1. Are there guidelines that or whatever, in the Suzuki program that give specifics as to the skill sets a student will have at a certain point in their instruction? Or is it subjective and up to the instructor what they want to teach the students?
  2. If there are guidelines, what minimum advanced skills should a student have by the time they are in book 5? (For example my daughter taught herself vibrato, because the pieces she was playing required it. She has never been taught anything about scales or how to tune her own violin)

Thanks

Laura said: May 29, 2009
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

A lot depends on the student’s age and ability. For example, for a 6 or 7 year old in Book 5, I would still expect a lot of the learning to be by ear/rote. Tuning one’s own violin at this age—maybe, maybe not. But for a 14 year old in Book 5, I would hope that they can do a good job at reading exactly what they are playing, and tune their own violin. Same with things like scales and theory. A very young student would do some supplementary scales and such, but a much older student is fully capable of grasping a wider range of technical exercises—and by grasping, I mean intellectually (keys, intervals, chords, etc.), not just in terms of playing ability.

I’m not a violinist so I can’t really speak specifically about violin skills. (I could offer my two cents regarding piano, but I gather that you’re not looking for that :) ) But so much of it depends on what the child can handle—that is the Suzuki way.

On the other hand, teaching can be insufficient even within Suzuki. I’m certain that a number of teachers do neglect to introduce certain skills at certain key times in a student’s development. It’s good that you’re asking the question.

Karra said: May 31, 2009
 Cello
Stockholm 113 43, Sweden
51 posts

Hi Oldfiddler,

I have never met any two teachers who think and teach exactly alike. Expectations of students at just about any given book level vary widely, to the point that there can be a lot of difficulty for both student and teacher when a student transfers (or, even more difficult, when one teacher leaves a job and a new one steps in). I’m a cello teacher, but here’s what I expect as regards the skills you mentioned:

Tuning- For very young students, I begin working on this at any point from mid book 1 to mid book 2, depending on how their ear is developing. I don’t expect them to be able to do it accurately by themselves until late book 2 or at some point in book 3. For older kids, I expect them to have been able to tune on their own for some time by the time they finish book 2, however I will provide assistance with that as necessary.

Vibrato- For this I wait until the student plays well in tune and has a well balanced left hand, relatively free of tension. For young students I find this usually happens somewhere in book 2; for older kids and adults late book 1. Like any other skill, some students master vibrato quickly and others take a little longer- I don’t believe it to be an absolute necessity to have mastered vibrato by book 3, but for cello book 6 it is a necessity (The Swan just would not work without it). FWIW, in my experience, self taught vibrato usually requires correction and can be quite difficult to fix; I hope your daughter can get some help with it before long.

Reading- I expect a book 5 student to read at about the level they play at, unless the student is very young. For a teenager, this is a necessary skill for playing in youth orchestras and chamber ensembles, as is tuning.

[box][On the other hand, teaching can be insufficient even within Suzuki. I’m certain that a number of teachers do neglect to introduce certain skills at certain key times in a student’s development. It’s good that you’re asking the question./quote]

This is the unfortunate truth. None of us are perfect as human beings or as teachers, but we do our best.

“It may very well be music that will one day save the world”— Pablo Casals

said: Jun 1, 2009
 4 posts

[box][On the other hand, teaching can be insufficient even within Suzuki. I’m certain that a number of teachers do neglect to introduce certain skills at certain key times in a student’s development. It’s good that you’re asking the question./quote]

Thanks for your replies, this helps somewhat. I do understand what both of you are saying in the above quote, but isn’t there a minimum set standard for the instruction? Just because I played violin in 4th grade and made it through book 1 doesn’t qualify me to be an instructor. Does it?

What this all boils down to is I’ve been paying over $300 a semester for her instruction and an finding out there is a gap in her instruction really bothers me. She has the talent and will go far if she is given the tools. (While she was still in book 1 she figured out how to play Happy Birthday with out music by ear, just to do it.)

Thanks again.

Karra said: Jun 1, 2009
 Cello
Stockholm 113 43, Sweden
51 posts

isn’t there a minimum set standard for the instruction? Just because I played violin in 4th grade and made it through book 1 doesn’t qualify me to be an instructor. Does it?

To some, it may. There are people who have entered teacher training with less than 2 years experience playing their instrument (I am absolutely not exaggerating). If you look at the SAA guidelines for the teacher training video audition, you’ll see that one only needs to be competent through a book 4 level to begin training. The range of levels seen in an SAA teacher training class can vary widely, from graduates of the world’s finest conservatories to those who have difficulty with the piece at the end of the book being studied. I personally would not think myself qualified enough to teach at all if I did not feel comfortable playing advanced repertiore.
There is also another angle to consider- being a good teacher requires skills entirely seperate from those needed to be a good musician. Patience, creativity, and the ability to communicate, for starters.
Does your daughter’s teacher have a good track record? Students who have gotten into youth symphonies, won competitions, been accepted to college music programs, etc.? Granted, not every student aspires to become a professional musician, but I would venture to say that most teachers have at least a few students who do. In my opinion, nothing speaks as much to the quality of a teacher as their track record, and by that I mean that the answer to the question ‘Did you get where you wanted to go with music’ should be ‘yes’ more often than not.

“It may very well be music that will one day save the world”— Pablo Casals

Jennifer Visick said: Jun 1, 2009
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
997 posts

CaraMia25

If you look at the SAA guidelines for the teacher training video audition, you’ll see that one only needs to be competent through a book 4 level to begin training.

However, a teacher does need to submit a higher level audition piece to register their SAA training for books at a higher level than book 4.

But this only measures the performing skills of potential teachers. It’s a prerequisite, not the thing itself. The ability to teach in a comprehensive, organized manner that does not leave anything out is what gets addressed during the training courses that the SAA offers.

oldfiddler

  1. Are there guidelines that or whatever, in the Suzuki program that give specifics as to the skill sets a student will have at a certain point in their instruction? Or is it subjective and up to the instructor what they want to teach the students?

As far as I know, there are no “official” written guidelines from the SAA or the ISA. The skill set a student should have at each book level is “mandated” by the repertoire. But every teacher trainer that I’ve taken SAA courses from does set guidelines before the teachers in their classes. A training course will usually take the form of playing and discussing the skills needed for each piece in a Suzuki book, recommendations about when and how each skill should be introduced to students, examples and observation of masterclass teachers teaching the pieces and skills needed at that level, etc. If the teacher implements these things or not—that is up to the teacher when they go back to their studio.

Has your teacher taken and registered the SAA training courses for books 1 through 5?

Laura said: Jun 1, 2009
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

The audition pieces seem to be a starting point, as a weeding step. Even at the basic level, the audition pieces are advanced enough require a certain standard of competence. Because so much of the Suzuki method is based on learning by ear and rote based on the teacher’s demonstration, this requirement makes sense. Or to put it another way, if a teacher can’t play those audition pieces more than half-decently, their ability to teach students good fundamentals in technique and musicianship would be under question. And I believe that passing the audition is based on how well the audition piece is played.

But this requirement is simply to be accepted into the Suzuki teacher training program. Actually learning to teach, and doing so effectively, are entirely different matters altogether as already mentioned.

I would expect a Suzuki teacher to know how to teach each Suzuki piece to be played well, both technically and musically. I would expect a violinist to know what skills (scales, tuning, etc.) are necessary to a violin student’s development, and therefore how and when they should be introduced. I would expect a Suzuki Violin Teacher to know all of these things, and know how to pick, choose and blend them into a student’s learning, in an age-appropriate manner. These sorts of things are all touched upon in Suzuki Teacher Training, regardless of instrument.

I have a variety of students at different Book levels in piano, and my expectations of them vary greatly depending on their age, maturity, ability to respond to my instruction, how well they have mastered one skill before focusing on the next, and to a certain extent, “natural talent”. I therefore don’t necessarily teach the same piece the same way to two different students. It really depends on what they can handle.

As such, i don’t believe there can ever be a specific minimum standard for what Any Student Should Know by a certain piece or book, beyond very general expectations. E.g. by such-and-such an age, and by such-and-such a book, it’s not unreasonable to expect them to have been introduced to X, Y, and Z skills. But exactly when, and exactly how, these were taught, are largely up to the teacher and his understanding of his student.

(All of this in the Ideal Suzuki World, of course!)

I agree with the comment about knowing a teacher’s track record, although it’s harder to judge less experienced teachers in this manner. (Less experience doesn’t always translate to poor quality, any more than more experience always translates to top quality.) If you are finding that other students comparable to your daughter (both age and level) are learning things that your daughter doesn’t know, I believe it would be entirely reasonable to gently probe the teacher about these things. For all you know, she may have her own time and manner of introducing them. You just want to make sure that she isn’t the type to overlook them—that would be a warning sign to me.

Laura said: Jun 1, 2009
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Here’s a great example of how there may be much more than meets the eye.

Consider the issue of fingerboard tapes. Some kids lose them by Book 1, while some don’t until Book 2 or 3. Some never use them at all. Some gain back a tape or two when learning shifting, while others don’t. Some teachers won’t dare teach to the end of Book 1 without tapes, while others start peeling them off after Go Tell Aunt Rhody.

And then there is the matter of what happens without the tapes. Has the student’s ear been sufficiently trained such that they can find and correct their own tuning? Or have they become too reliant on the visual cues of the tapes rather than learned to appreciate, by ear, how playing on the tapes actually makes things in tune? As you can see, it would be easy to have a general rule regarding when a student doesn’t need tapes. But in reality, this is both teacher-specific and student-specific. And the results can also vary grately because of all of these underlying factors.

And all of this is only from a parents’ perspective! I’m sure that actual Suzuki Violin Teachers can comment more fruitfully on this matter.

said: Jun 2, 2009
 10 posts

I agree with all the teachers comments. That said, I can tell you with conviction that if your daughter “taught herself” vibrato and she is in book 5 and the teacher never mentioned it or taught her, there is a big red flag here! I’m a teacher. Sit down with that teacher right away and have this conevrsation with him/her. Ask a lot of questions. Take it from there.

For what it is worth, my stuents generally lose most of their tapes, learn vibrato, and begin early colle and other finger/wrist techniques, and practice several scales and arpeggios by the end of book 1/early book 2. Just a general idea and there’s lots of individual variation. But all have vibrato, carefully taught, by mid book 2.

said: Jun 2, 2009
 4 posts

holly22a,

I would like to sit down with the instructor and the academy administrator and have a conversation and ask lots of questions but I don’t know what to ask. I guess that’s what I’m trying to find out. I know I need to ask questions I just don’t know what they are.

(

begin early colle and other finger/wrist techniques, and practice several scales and arpeggios

)

Pardon my ignorance but what is colle?
What other finger and wrist techniques are there that she should know?
Are the scales and arpeggios something she should do regularly?

She is past the tapes, when she plays Millionaires Hoedown she’s off somewhere else, her fingers are on their own.

said: Jun 2, 2009
 10 posts

dear oldfiddler: You can ask the same questions you are asking here: what kinds of benchmarks are there for teaching young adults? At what piece (level) in the suzuki books do you introduce which techniques? Playing violin involves several different systems—in addition to posture issues (head, neck, back, feet, general stance, etc.), on one side there’s left hand technique which is basically a great set-up, intonation, vibrato, shifting, and double-stops (more than one string). As many of the teachers have pointed out, there’s no hard and fast rule about when you introduce things, but each teacher should have a rationale about it. The teacher should be able to explain to you when they emphasize these things, and more importantly, why! And then you have the right side, the bowarm and bowhand, with similar issues. Violinists begin with a simple fixed bowhold while developing beautiful tone and the fluidity of the bowarm and elbow, and fairly rapidly learn techniques of the wrist and fingers, such as colle, which is a rapid moverment that adds “kick” and emphasis to a stroke, basically. All sorts of violin strokes have french names—there’s stacatto, martele, marcato, legato, colle, tremolo, and many many more. Your teacher should be able tp discuss these and tell you how they are taught, when, and why. Each suzuki piece in the books has much to teach and all these things will come up in the course of getting to book 5 properly. As for scales and arpeggios, some teachers use them more than others, but if a student has an orchestra audition, they will be asked to play scales, so it is good to get going on them. Even my book 1 students play A and D scales and the tonalizations in these books are naught but pretty arpeggios. My book 5 students play 2 or 3 octave scales in up to 4 flats or sharps. Then there’s reading music—every teacher should have a rationale for when they emphasize this and what their expectations are, particularly with older students who want to join a school group. Finally, there are ensemble skills—are the students gaining experience playing with others in duets or other chamber music? When and why? I hope this helps you. I have often recommended people look at the youtube videos of todd ehle (there are dozens covering every conceivable apect of violin technique)—he’s a great teacher and he explains all these things on video, very very helpful to adult students and other curious souls interested in the details of violin technique, specifically. Hope this helps. But mostly, do take your concerns and questions right to the teacher. We love it when parents ask us because we may not know you are worrying over something unless you say so.

Lynn said: Jun 2, 2009
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
173 posts

It’s really hard to ask questions when you don’t know what questions to ask!
It’s also hard to recommend questions without knowing much about how your daughter plays, but for starters:

When do you teach students to tune their own violins?
(Prerequisite to tuning: the ability to discern when the strings are in tune—easy to teach if their ear is developed to where they are correcting their own intonation; the ability to sustain an even tone on two strings; the finger strength to turn the tuners or the pegs.)

Okay of we take these tapes off the fingerboard? She doesn’t seem to be needing them.

Can we talk about vibrato? She taught herself, and I’d really like to make sure she’s doing it correctly!

When do we start learning scales and arpeggios? I thought all music students have to learn them…(they do!)
Scales and arpeggios are so so basic to music…they really are the building blocks of how melodies and harmonies are constructed. Knowing them is akin to learning basic grammar and sentence structure in English. What Purple-Tulips said with regards to learning basic theory is spot on, and it all begins with knowing scales and arpeggios. By Book 5, a 14yo student certainly has what is needed to play and understand two octave scales and arpeggios up to four sharps and three or four flats, and could even be starting to work on three octaves scales and arpeggios. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that would be another good question to ask….along with what is colle! (Pronounced ‘co-lay’. It’s a short, quick bow stroke that involves moving the bow with the fingers rather than the arm. I usually teach it with Martini Gavotte, and use it in Becker Gavotte, 1st Seitz, and probably other places that I can’t remember off the top of my head. Maybe she did learn it, but just didn’t get the name?)

As others recommended, it is appropriate to ask your teacher about her background as a violinist and as a teacher, about her level of training in both areas, and about her track record with students…how long they stay, how advanced they are, etc. You can reasonably expect clear, solid answers.

Perhaps you have gleaned from the answers you have received there is a lot of variation in when and in what order skills presented, and that as long as a student is still a “work in progress”, you can always find teachers who will have already worked on something that your teacher hasn’t addressed yet—and your teacher may have touched on items that other’s haven’t. That being said, your general sense that there are things students should know, or skills they should have when they reach certain levels of playing is reasonable. Does your high school have an orchestra? If it does, the orchestra director or string teacher should be able to tell you how your daughter compares overall with other students at her level of experience and ability, and may also be able to comment on your teacher.

Final comment: I have had conversations with transfer students who claim no knowledge of things I know their former teacher talked about; likewise, I have sat and watched MY students tell their Institute teacher that “we never learned”, when actually we’d spent quite a bit of time on it. Sometimes, student just don’t remember or recognize something, especially if the teacher presents it in a slightly different manner. Memory is funny like that.

Jennifer Visick said: Jun 3, 2009
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
997 posts

Lucy

I have had conversations with transfer students who claim no knowledge of things I know their former teacher talked about; likewise, I have sat and watched MY students tell their Institute teacher that “we never learned”, when actually we’d spent quite a bit of time on it.

Yes, this frequently happens. Your child may in fact have learned how to do a great many things without learning what those things are called. It’s the nature of learning to be fluent… you don’t pay attention to the name of the thing, you pay attention to the purpose (i.e. the music) behind it.

Laura said: Jun 3, 2009
 
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
358 posts

Also, we often have:

Teacher: Let’s play Minuet 1 [which is actually the latest polishing piece]
Student: I don’t know Minuet 1.
Teacher: You don’t? I’m sure you do—it’s the one that starts like this. [plays first few bars]
Student: Oh, that one. I didn’t practice it.
Mom, from corner of room: What do you mean, we practiced it ALL WEEK!!!
Student: Oh yeah. [starts playing without any further problems]

It happens. It’s not a big deal—just a temporary lapse in brain function which is totally normal for any kid :)

In any situation in which you’re sometimes not dealing with your own students (e.g. transfer students, group class), it’s a good idea to give students the benefit of the doubt, and try asking things from a few different angles, including demonstrating if necessary, before determining if a student really doesn’t know something or not.

Example from my daughter’s group class:

Teacher: How many of you do vibrato in this piece? [maybe 2 hands go up]
How many of you do the wiggly thing in this piece [followed by demonstration]? [about 10 more hands shoot up]

I think that is an illustration of RaineJen’s point. Particularly the younger the student is, it’s more important that they physically know how to make the music come across the correct way. As they get older, we expect more and more that they would understannd the actual terminologies and concepts behind what they are doing.

said: Jun 4, 2009
 4 posts

RaineJen

[box]Lucy

I have had conversations with transfer students who claim no knowledge of things I know their former teacher talked about; likewise, I have sat and watched MY students tell their Institute teacher that “we never learned”, when actually we’d spent quite a bit of time on it.

[/box]

Yes I have had this experience with my kids on many occasions.

I thank all of you who responded to my questions. This has helped me both in figuring out where my daughter is with her skills and where here instructor is.

Thank you again.

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