Student too fast or teacher too slow?


Diane said: Jul 3, 2010
Diane AllenViolin
244 posts

This is a topic that comes up quite regularly. I know that parents want to see their kids learn quickly, effectively and flourish. Then there are these teachers (myself including) who for some technical development reason hold back assigning the next song.

I don’t want to talk about supplementing or teaching styles. I want to talk about the psychology here. Parents digging in their heels “This hold back is killing the enthusiasm with practicing at home and we’re not moving ahead.” Teachers are digging in their heels “Standards must be met!” This is just a big standoff!!! Time to bring in the professional mediator! Parents will do anything for their kids—and rightly so! Teachers will get grumpy until their standards are met…

Thoughts??? Answers??? Mediators???

Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

said: Jul 5, 2010
 15 posts

I am a parent who wishes our instructor would go slower. (Finishing up Book 2 at the end of our second year, he began learning at 4.) It would be a tremendous help to parents if there are supplemental pieces/songs especially for younger students so that students don’t get bored. Our first instructor had little funny songs, etc. that help us work on the skills that are intended for certain pieces in Suzuki book. Is there such a book? I’d like to know myself. I’d also like to see in print in Suzuki text books exactly what new skills students are expected to learn. That would make text books more student/parent friendly. Parents really need to be shown not just what we need to have our kids practice on three times a day for the coming week, but the BIG PICTURE of the skill development in stages. I love watching accomplished violinists on Youtube and see all the different techniques they use. I learn from other kids’ playing and see what they do well. These observations help me in appreciating how important it is to have a solid foundation. But maybe not all parents are like me…

Jennifer Visick said: Jul 5, 2010
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
997 posts

For violin, there is The Suzuki Violinist (starr), teaching from the balance point (kreitman), in the Suzuki style (mills), how muscles learn (kempter), the step by step books (wartberg)—these may give you both an overview of the bigger picture and some technical points for each piece and some fun ideas for practice

Also try subscribing to and reading the SAA Journal

Diane said: Jul 6, 2010
Diane AllenViolin
244 posts

“I’d also like to see in print in Suzuki text books exactly what new skills students are expected to learn.”

Yes! As I wrote the initial post I was thinking that my students’ parents are wonderful followers but if they are showing frustration then I probably have failed to communicate what I’m teaching!

The above listed books are all wonderful—however—each teacher teaches differently and each student is unique. Thank you for confirming my suspicion. Communication is KEY! On the teacher end I’ve got some ideas already about explaining how details fit into the big picture. Parents should speak up as well. The “standoff” I described above is just plain uncomfortable!

Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

Herbert said: Jul 8, 2010
5 posts

After several false starts in trying to give my opinion, I think it boils down to this: If the child and the parent are making good faith efforts to mastering a piece (in terms of age-adjusted time spent practicing) but is being held back because the piece cannot be played perfectly then after a reasonable number of lessons, the child should be advanced. I have seen it in my daughter that technical challenges are met even if the ‘roadblock’ piece is worked concurrently with pieces further in the book.


Carol Anderson said: Jul 8, 2010
Carol Anderson
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Piano, Cello, Viola
9 posts

I’ve been a Suzuki Violin Teacher for nearly 30 years and have found that I too needed to send home the teaching points with my students in such a way that it is a concrete reminder of the week’s lesson. I have made workbooks that are in printed and Ebook format on my website. The students can keep the Ebook on their computers and print only the workbook pages. Each workbook includes the music, a break down of how to learn the piece in a systematic way, a music theory game and often harmonies or extra tunes. If you are interested in trying one, just email me and I will send you the one you are studying for free.

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I also write a newsletter. My aim is to inform students and teachers of how they are wired, the differences and what their unique strengths are so they can focus on them and not someone else’s strengths. One of my newsletters talked specifically about the art of holding students at bay so they don’t move on too quickly. I’ve had responses from people around the US. One said she ‘played the truck’ during one of her recent lessons. Please read the following copy of my newsletter. I hope it helps.

“Today I identified with a truck

I was coming home to Pennsylvania from New Jersey.

I’d met with my kids early in the morning in New Jersey and was returning home a new way ….. looking forward to hours of teaching violin throughout the afternoon and evening.

My unreliable counsel…..Mr. GPS…tried to get me to go through Philadelphia the back way…I didn’t need the red lights, traffic and speed limits. So I ignored it as best I could and headed for the turnpike. It then decided I should take the Burlington Bristol Bridge. This bridge was wobbly, only two tiny lanes that periodically rose for boats to pass, and it cost .05 cents to cross, when I was a kid. I think the only thing that has changed is the toll, so that wasn’t an option.

Despite it’s potential ‘recalculating screams’ I took a right instead of the left and headed for the turnpike…..still in New Jersey.

Mr. Dunkin and I finally reached the turnpike, got over the Delaware and were headed into home plate..yeah


two trucks ahead of me were going



One was in the right lane,

the second was ‘even steven’ in the left lane.

They stayed neck and neck.

I was waiting for the flag to drop and the take off but it didn’t happen.

It was as if they were having a little ‘tête à tête’ on the turnpike!!

“Give me a break….I need to get home”!!

You don’t just jump into teaching for hours….I needed to eat what ends up being breakfast at 2:00 in the afternoon most days and prepare for the lessons.

A few miles more of my fidgeting in a line of an ever increasing number of cars just itching to take off


guess who I saw on the right side of the road.

Mr. policeman.

The trucks were holding us back.

My total irritation turned to respect and thankfulness.

The trucks moved over to the slow lane and the flag dropped.

As I reflected on what had happened and my reaction….

I was, first of all, disappointed in myself.

I realized I was reacting and not responding,

‘Respond don’t react’

have been my ‘words of wisdom’ to those I’m privileged to coach in life.

I was disappointed with how controlled I was by the coffee and the irritation.

It also made me identify with the truck.

I began to remember moments when I was the truck on the left and my husband the truck on the right. We must have looked brain-less to the ‘cars’ locked in behind us.

Most of our kids had at sometime in their lives been in that line of cars, sometimes students who wanted to move onto the next song a little too soon.

Why were we willing to be thought of as ‘trucks’ with poor judgment?

Because we were the responsible adults,
we had the plan for the future,
the responsibility of an outcome,
and a history behind us that provided an awareness
of the consequences and rewards of immature choices.

Kids…actually, until they are almost out of their teens,
don’t have the foundation of experience and the brain development to know what a fork in the road offers.

Sometimes words weren’t enough to get across our dreams and goals. Action had to be our choice of control.

I hope this gives you the ‘gumption’ to be a truck and block movement that is not in the best interest of the student.

Please check out my recent blog.
and then, check out my website:

Diane said: Jul 8, 2010
Diane AllenViolin
244 posts

I love the truck story! How do your students’ parents respond to the truck story?

I can see the truck story working in conjunction with the information of how this seemingly little teaching point fits into the big picture.

I’m role playing here as THE Devil’s Advocate. (Yes I’ve taught for 25 years and parented for 13. I’m feeling a little split personality-ish!)

Would you as an adult blindly follow someone else not knowing the outcome? Would you do it with your child and demand that the child behave and be enthusiastic? If there is a parent teacher standoff is it because the parent doesn’t fully trust the teacher? Isn’t it healthy and appropriate for a parent to leave room for doubt and not have 100% blind faith?

Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

Carol Anderson said: Jul 8, 2010
Carol Anderson
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Piano, Cello, Viola
9 posts


I do have answers to some of your questions, but they aren’t easy to accept. They take work. They take time….and yes, sometimes the parent is the root of the problem if they haven’t been won over. I have to say, having raised four kids, I would not blindly trust a teacher. Everyone has an agenda, and some adults are simply grown adolescents reliving their unfulfilled dreams. You don’t want to expose your child in blind faith…………accepting what hasn’t been proven. I have adults coming to me who have taken lessons for years and little to show for it. Unfortunately, knowing how to play an instrument isn’t the only criteria for being a good teacher.

Hopefully, you allow the parents in your program to see the outcome through parent meetings, group lessons backing up to the more advanced kids, and concerts where they get to interact with other parents.

You can never demand that your child be enthusiastic. You would hopefully choose a teacher who knows how to teach. If she can’t reach a child one way, she goes in the backdoor. But when a kid comes into class with wet hair because they just came from swimming and are headed to ballet when they leave you, ….enthusiasm isn’t the biggest problem.

My students are enthusiastic. I strongly encourage the parents to consider violin as their main extra curricular activity. I play music theory games with them at the end of their lessons. I send home a workbook or they download it from my website, so they don’t flounder half way through the week. I also evaluate their style of learning. My summer newsletter will be describing all of this. Sign up for it if you have an interest.

My degree is in psychology and I am trying to promote Applied Positive Psychology in my program ‘Scales Aren’t Just a Fish Thing.’

If there is a stand off, the teacher needs to stand by her standards. If she requires a practice partner, then the parent either becomes one or supplies one. Parents have a lot more going on than simply a ’stand off’. I usually say, if this were fixed….(the problem they are talking about), then would you feel more comfortable. The next layer usually opens up and there is a different problem. Then if we did this and fixed that problem, how would things stand? If parents are having financial issues, marital problems, ….they aren’t going to tell you right off but life bumps in the road can limit how much they can handle, and lessons could just push them over the side.

Often it has nothing to do with trusting a teacher in the ’stand off’.

Barb said: Jul 8, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
678 posts

Trust—an interesting issue.

I’ve been thinking about why a few of my students don’t practice what they’ve been assigned, or how they’ve been assigned to practice. Is it a trust issue? Don’t they trust me?

I haven’t actually experience “the stand-off” yet…

As to BLINDLY following—no, not necessary. If there’s something you don’t see or understand, ask the teacher—why, what is the purpose…? There usually IS a reason. Of course, as Carol says, children and teens don’t see or understand as adults. I understand now some of the frustration my teacher must have had with me as a teen! I felt at that time I should be the one in control, and I didn’t trust my teacher. Is it any wonder my progression slowed? (I now think I should have sought out a different teacher for personality reasons, instead of sticking with him because he was the best performer in town. But that’s another topic.)

My most successful student (in only two years of teaching, granted) is the one whose parents insist that she practice what is assigned because I am the teacher. She is generally cooperative, but the odd time she doesn’t want to do everything. I also have a couple little work horses who came to me with no “natural talent” (i.e. no musical background at all—couldn’t keep a beat, etc.). Again, the parent follows the assignments for the most part—great progress! The parents who let their children manage their practice (these are age 8 and up) end up with the same assignment over and over and over because they are not progressing because some things aren’t getting practiced, or aren’t getting practiced in a useful, productive way.

Oh, and the adults, too. I do expect them to be somewhat more autonomous as adults, but as beginners, they still need to trust that I am assigning things in the interest of building a strong foundation so they can do what they like down the road. I had one adult student bring me a gift and an apology one week last year, for being a typical adult student who figured she didn’t need to do what I said. She had read something online about adult students and recognized herself, and realized it was in her best interest to do what I assigned after all. Maybe I need to ask her for that link for some of the other adults? I did use the truck analogy, after reading Carol’s newsletter, with one of my adult students who kept wanting to move on and learn new things without a good grasp of earlier material—it helped her to understand. I have asked a child student to not “play ahead” in her Suzuki book, and explained to her parents that when she does that, I end up correcting her, rather than teaching her, and in the end it actually slows her progress. (There is no stand-off here at all, they are happy with her progress, and this issue of playing ahead was just starting to happen.)

So (though it may not be related to a stand off, necessarily) how do we gain the trust of our students and parents? I think that Carol’s e-books or something similar are a good idea to help the parents see “the point”. I should make something similar for my cello lessons. I have considered a checklist of skills and lining them up with repertoire. Also, as she said, opportunity for the parents to see the more advanced students, talk with other parents, etc. What else?

Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Diane said: Jul 9, 2010
Diane AllenViolin
244 posts

1—Thanks for all your time and answers. I know how long it takes to write a lengthy answer!

2—Summary of what’s transpired so far: Communication of teaching points helps both parents and students, Teaching points should be clear from the teacher and additional information is available in a variety of books and the Suzuki Journal, Open communication is key, teachers keep your standards, explanation of a holding pattern using truck analogy, teachers need to be sensitive to moving on and keeping a tab on a certain piece if the student has put a ton of effort into it and needs more time to develop the teaching point, what may seem like a “stand off” very well may be a parent under stress not related to being a Suzuki parent. (If I’ve left anything out—it was unintentional.)

3—What I’ve personally learned so far is to teach the same but change my languaging. I put myself in the parent’s shoes and when explaining the teaching point—speak to their need, question or frustration. For example—I have a number of exceptionally bright parents and students who think super fast. I must seem like a sloth to them. Instead of just explaining the teaching point, I’ll now include words that would appeal to them. “In my experience this is the quickest most direct way to the result.” Previously I would say “I know, I’m such a slow poke and you’re excited to go on, but we’re going to accomplish this first.” That kind of statement tends to point out our differences. The first statement points out that I understand their wishes.

I’m also glad to be reminded that parent’s frustrations aren’t always related to the music world! I’ll have to think a bit more on how to engage a parent about their music coaching without getting deeply into their personal life.

Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

Carol Anderson said: Jul 9, 2010
Carol Anderson
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Piano, Cello, Viola
9 posts

What you said about not getting too involved in the family’s personal lives is so true yet, people are hungry for communication, especially young mothers who want mentoring as part of the lesson. I think that’s valuable. I tend to work and encourage people who are ‘healthy’ emotionally and need encouragement and support. If they aren’t healthy, they find that out when we work on our tasks because they won’t be able to progress properly.

Actually, I’m just about to send out a newsletter that you might find interesting.

Before teaching, I have little tasks I do with both the student and their practice partner to ‘reveal’ to them that they are unique learners and will see the lessons differently. Check out the blog. If you’d like the initial email that goes before the blog just let me know your email address.

Here’s the blog:

I’m just putting on the link for the free Ebook so if it’s not up when you read it, just check back again.

The fact that you have a concern about the student and your communication with them shows a passion that is essential in a teacher. Just remember, you are as unique as they are. So what if they have brains that race on beta power. You might have the alpha or even theta waves that are essential to rounding out our society and giving us all the beauty of the arts. Take your time and start to appreciate your slower thinking….and …if you want to ignite your brain into a faster speed, email me privately and I’ll tell you how you can do that.
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Timothy Judd said: Jul 16, 2010
Timothy Judd
Suzuki Association Member
Glen Allen, VA
56 posts

From the beginning Dr. Suzuki’s emphasis is on tone, posture, intonation and musicality rather than zipping from piece to piece. Suzuki constantly preached patience. He considered the “tuck-a-tuck-a, tuck-ah” to be a piece in itself for the beginner! He believed that every child develops at his or her own pace and cannot be pushed.

The parent who fears that their child’s enthusiasm is fading because they are not moving fast enough lacks a basic understanding of this and is teaching the child to not strive to play their best. It might be helpful to remind them that learning the notes is just the beginning. Then we learn the music! You never have a right to be bored with a piece because you can always play with a better tone, better phrasing, ect!

I would emphasize to parents that you can’t build a house without the foundation and the pieces in the repertoire are like this. This is not to say that students will not come back to an old piece and play it better as they get more advanced.

I would make sure parents and students know exactly how to practice and let them know that if they put in enough time and work in the correct way they will be able to learn the piece.

Robert Schumann had a lot of wisdom in his “Musical Rules at Home and in Life”

Among the quotes are, “Take care to play easier pieces well and beautifully: that is better than a mediocre performance of a difficult piece.” and “There is no end to learning.”

Carol Anderson said: Jul 17, 2010
Carol Anderson
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Piano, Cello, Viola
9 posts

Just a thought to add to your great encouragement.

Everything in life goes and comes in waves. I could mention a few but I’m sure you each have a list….

You can think of it as mountains and valleys.

To live on a mountain top all the time is unrealistic. And those days of valleys make the mountain top ‘view’ all that more enjoyable.

I have been working on my newsletter for the 7 week program of ‘Igniting Sleeping Brains’ and pondering the concept of what really gives us a feeling of reward, happiness and satisfaction.
The second week’s tasks will be going out today…I hope. If you want to receive the letter, sign up on my website.

There are two kinds of happiness and satisfaction.

One is natural. The feeling you get when you see your baby for the first time, …happiness you don’t conjure up.

Really, how often do we experience that kind of fulfillment?

Then there is the synthetic happiness. That which our minds actually make. It comes with……can I say the word….commitment.

Here’s a question:

If I said, “look, I have ten of my music theory games available but of these games….’spit-cato’ and ‘morse code for musicians’ I have four extra copies. Now since I have so many of the fourth game and the fifth game, you can choose one.

There are two options:

Option A: Take one of the games and if you don’t like it, just return it for the second game. You have two weeks to decide.


Option B: Take one of the games and the other will be shipped out today headed to a summer camp for musicians.

If you chose Option A, you would be among 66% of the country.

Only 1/3 would have said, ‘look, I’ll take this and stick with it’.

Studies show that after the two weeks, group A is no more happy with the second game than they were with the first. In fact, they never commit to either game.

Group B makes the most of their choice and runs with it. Within a few weeks, they are sure they like their choice better than they would have liked the other game.

In actuality…our brains aesthetic sensitivities have actually changed and accepted our choice as something we prefer. It makes us happy, content, satisfied…..committed.

Choice is essential for our well-being but we often fail to look beyond that and see that physically and psychologically, it is also essential for us to set boundaries and standards and stick with our choices.

What I am trying to say is that students and student’s families need to count the cost and make the ‘choice’ to take lessons knowing as much as they can about the cost. It isn’t a trial run. No testing the waters. That needs to be done during the research stage. Once you hit the ‘life of a music student’, you have responsibilities.

You no longer have a choice to listen to instruction, you have already chosen instruction.

You no longer have a choice to practice, you need to establish practice as a part of the daily routine, just as eating or sleeping.

Listening to the music you will learn to play is no longer, ‘if we are in the room at the time we want to listen’. … It is now, manipulate your life so the music can be played anywhere.

Will your student accept you as the authority?

If you have done the work to become the authority….they will. Remember: the authority is responsible for making the path toward success a carefully groomed road.

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Diane said: Jul 18, 2010
Diane AllenViolin
244 posts

All the replies to this topic have been insightful and it’s wonderful to hear how different people explain in different ways common topics to the world of Suzuki teaching.

I think that feeling of a “stand off” boils down to a communication issue. A “stand off” could be the germination of a seed that could later turn into a verbal argument, a family changing teachers, or a choice to quit altogether. So communicating through the feeling of a “stand off” is important. It’s a first sign of “something is amiss”. Before things get blown out of proportion either the parent or the teacher needs to be sensitive to the presence of the “seed” and initiate a calm conversation. The next level of sensitivity is while keeping your own ideas and standards, acknowledge the other person’s concerns. It’s sensitive communication 101. In this fast paced world it’s sometimes hard to be aware of the “seed” to begin with!

On a personal note—I know that sometimes I need time to come up with an answer. Since I know this about myself—when I have a conversation with a parent and I’m “running dry” with answers I’ll tell them that often times I need to digest our conversation for a few hours and the answer will come to me later. (The life of a right brain thinker…) That’s when I reach into my storehouse of information and pull out what is necessary. That’s why hearing a lot of the replies to this post really helps. It all becomes part of my storehouse.

Lastly—I specifically remember part of my Suzuki training being that when a student plays for you, you begin your comments by stating an acknowledgement. Then you proceed with a teaching point. Sounds like communication 101 to me!

Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

Diane said: Aug 28, 2010
Diane AllenViolin
244 posts

The SAA is offering a new course—SPA—Suzuki Principles in Action.
The course may answer a lot of what was discussed on this topic.
Here’s the SAA’s own words on the course.

Topics include:

Setting standards of excellence for students at all levels
Identifying the appropriate time to move ahead in the repertoire
Incorporating regular, productive review work in daily teaching and practicing
Incorporating ear training and learning by ear in daily teaching
Focusing attention on tone development
Giving productive, balanced, frequent feedback to students
Communicating effectively and working productively with parents
Structuring lessons to facilitate successful progress

Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

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