said: Sep 13, 2008
 145 posts


I need some help.
I have inherited a pupil of approximately end of Bk2—beginning of book3 standard. I don’t actually teach her Suzuki as I teach her in a school. BUT I need help. She plays SO SO incredibly out of tune. Sometimes it’s so out of tune she hits wrong notes.
How do I help her ?
I’ve been doing scales of course, it is helping, but was wondering if anyone has ideas that have worked !

Jennifer Visick said: Sep 13, 2008
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

From Ed Kreitman, at an institute: “play all the ringing notes. you can’t move to the next one until you hear it ring.” Time the student. Can it be done in 2 minutes? 1 minute? 30 seconds? 15 seconds?

  • have the student buy New, Quality Strings
  • use very thin finger tapes
  • use a drone note for scales or short passages (e.g., drone the tonic on lightly row, etc)

From a tonalization exercise from Ed Sprunger:
- play the octave harmonic, then the same pitch on the next higher string -

-teach listening to the beats for open string tuning
- Did I mention increasing listening?
- singing
- use an electronic tuner for part of the practice time
-how about “are these notes the same or different?” game
- play harmony parts with the student
- pick a short unfamiliar song and have the student learn it completely by ear without sheet music to take home or see, ever.
- use piano accompaniment in the class and at home (recorded accompaniment is fine, as long as it has a tuning note)
- Try SmartMusic (with good equipment!!!)
- Listen to lots of different professional recordings of the instrument, not necessarily the music being worked on at the moment

From a partially deaf student of mine:
- if visual finger tapes don’t work well, try tactile tapes (e.g.,

From Simon Fischer’s “Basics” book
- Listen to one note going in and out of tune on purpose, preferably a ringing note, try to ID the spot where it rings “the most”. Listen for the change in tone quality, volume, resonance.

  • audiation

From Helen Higa, at an institute:
- instead of practicing by “if at first you fail, try, try again” (most students try the same thing over again), specifically teach “if at first you fail, try something different. When you succeed, then try, try, again (and again and again and again and again….. )
- alternate between asking “how does it FEEL? Do it again and make it FEEL the same” “how does it LOOK? Do it again and make it LOOK th…” how does it SOUND? Do it aga…”

All the following suggestions I adapted from a page in the Hawthorne Pre-Referral Intervention Manual, from a section which deals with students who have trouble reproducing certain speech sounds.

-if it’s a specific finger pattern, have the student list all the review songs containing that finger pattern (e.g., all songs with low 1, low 4, high 3, etc.)

-Be sure that the student can hear the difference between the target sound the way it should be made and the way it sounds when incorrectly produced.

-circle, highlight, underline or otherwise mark ringing notes or “problem” notes in the sheet music

  • Evaluate the appropriateness of requiring the student to accurately produce certain sounds (e.g., make sure that the student’s instrument is well set up, make sure that the strings are new, and in tune (make sure the parent or student can adequately tune between lessons on their own), and make sure the instrument is not too large for the student’s hand, palm, and arm length.

-Encourage short frequent spurts of daily practice (as opposed to one or two longer practice sessions) by having the student invest in a stand or a wall hook which can be placed in an easily accessible but not easily knocked over place in the home. Teach the parent to check that the instrument is in tune each morning or evening. Then the student can come and do short “target practice” more easily in a matter of 2 or 3 or 5 minutes, replace the instrument on the stand and go back to whatever they were doing before. Make multiple “practice cards” of a certain note that the parent can post up in various places in the home. When the student sees one, he/she can go take the card and practice that one note or that one point for 3 minutes, and then put the card in a “finished” stack. The student could bring these cards to you at the next lesson…. you might have a sticker or a small incentive if the student finishes a certain number of cards

-have the student practice a target note (e.g., a ringing note) in combination with another note that can easily be played in tune (e.g., open strings, or, if first finger is reliably in tune but 2 and 3 are not, use a first finger note before the target note). Have the student play the first note and then imagine the sound of the target note before playing the target note. Ask “did it match your imagination?”

  • Have the student keep a notebook of difficult notes or finger patterns encountered each day. These can be practiced by the student with the teacher or peer assistance.

  • Have the student play simple passages and tape record them. Have him/her listen to the recording and mark error and/or correct productions.

  • Use a board game that requires the student to identify short songs containing the target note. The student needs to produce the target note correctly before he/she can move on the game board. (This activity can be simplified or expanded based on the level of expertise of the student).

  • Have the student’s hearing checked if it has not been recently checked.

  • Use a schematic drawing as a visual aid to show the student how the hand looks during production of the target sound. A picture of finger patterns or placement—even a snapshot of the student’s own hand—may help here. Mirrors, or maybe placing the fingers on the fingerboard while in rest position may help him/her to see the finger patterns while producing them. Have the student practice finger patterns without the instrument -e.g., feeling the closeness of 2 and 3 or the distance between low 1 and low 2, which is similar to the distance between 1 and high 2, etc.

  • Have the student stand up each time he/she hears the target sound produced accurately as contrasted with inaccurate productions

  • Provide the student with a list of songs or musical phrases containing the target sound. Have him/her practice the review songs or phrases daily. As the student masters the review list, add more songs.

  • Have the student tally the number of correct productions of the targeted sound when the teacher or a peer plays a song (e.g., play chorus from judas mac. and have the student count how many times the “d” 3rd finger rings)

  • Tell the student what to listen for when requiring him/her to imitate sounds (e.g., high or low, ringing notes, seeing the open strings vibrate when playing a ringing note, listen after the bow stops, listen for “beats” when you play the correct pitch and the student has to match your sound while you play

  • Have the student compose a song using a certain finger pattern, help them to write it down, teach it to you, etc. help them see what kind of mood or aural atmosphere each finger pattern produces—e.g., major mode, minor modes, dorian, whole tones, all half steps, etc)

  • Choose a peer to model correctly producing targeted songs for the student. mini-recitals, group classes, concerts, have him/her listen to another student whose lesson is right before or after this student’s lesson, etc.

  • Initially, each correct production may need reinforcement. As the student progresses, random reinforcement may be adequate.

  • Have the student show “thumbs up” each time the target sound is produced accurately and “thumbs down” if the target sound is produced inaccurately.

  • Make certain the student is attending to the source of information (e.g., eye contact is being made, hands are free of materials, etc.) Perhaps listening with eyes closed can help get rid of visual distractions

  • Play a game such as Simon Says in which the student tries to imitate correct productions of targeted sounds (e.g., “simon says play this note out of tune. simon says play this note in tune. simon says use first finger to play this note. use 2nd finger to play this note. simon says play the end of twinkle twinkle little star with an in tune 3rd finger and an out of tune first finger. etc.)

  • Provide the student with verbal reminders or prompts when he/she requires help imitating sounds (e.g. “higher / lower / look for the open string to vibrate / did you hear it ring? / did it match the way you imagine it sounding? etc.

  • Reinforce the student for correct production of the target sound: (a) give the student a tangible reward (e.g., classroom privileges, line leading passing out materials, five minutes free time, etc.) or (b) give the student and intangible reward (e.g., praise, handshake, smile, etc.)

  • Have the student play a list of notes and rate his/her production after each word (you may need to model each note before the student plays. a list of ringing notes can be done without modeling, since there are external factors to tell the student if he/she is in tune or not)

  • Have the student use a carrier phrase combined with the target sound (e.g. play a short phrase which resolves on a ringing note. The idea being that the impetus of the phrase helps get to the right note. E.g., play a phrase that gets to a leading note, and then stop, having the student supply the ending note which resolves the phrase.

  • Tape record an improvised song made up by the student on the spot. Have him/her listen to the recording and tally errors and/or correct productions. The teacher should also listen to the tape recording. The teacher and the student should compare their analyses of the productions.

  • Have the student raise a hand or clap hands when he/she hears the target sound produced during a series of isolated sound productions. (e.g., play a single note several times, in tune, out of tune, out of tune in a different way, in tune, WAY out of tune, in tune, etc.)

  • Present the student with a short list of appropriate chords. Have the student select a chord and then improvise using only the notes of that chord for a specific length of time. Count errors and suggest ways for him/her to improve. Play this chord in some upbeat rhythm on the piano while the student improvises. The ‘errors’ you count are not about rhythms, note choice, dynamics, articulation, posture or tone quality, but whether or not the chord tones match the pitch on the background piano.

  • Play two similar finger patterns with only one finger in a different position and have the student identify which pattern it is without looking at your hand. Then ask for each finger pattern and have the student play it for you.

  • Speak to the student to explain what he/she needs to do differently (e.g. make the sound like you do). The teacher should be careful to use the sound that is being targeted and not the letter name or the thing that needs to be done (e.g., “play this” and then demonstrate, not “play D” nor even “play lower/higher”)

said: Sep 16, 2008
 145 posts

Thank you so much for this. I have to digest it first before teaching it, but am sure it will all really help!

Jennifer Visick said: Sep 16, 2008
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

Hm, looking at what I posted, it may have been a little bit too much!

Anyways, you don’t have to digest it all at once, maybe pick one or two ideas that sound like they might fit your student, try it out for a month, and then if the response is minimal or non-existent, try another idea.


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