Starting a Suzuki program/school

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Karen said: Apr 26, 2010
Karen Geyer
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
5 posts

I have been teaching cello at a community music school (http://www.NISOM.com) for 9 years, using traditional methods with students who started in public school and Suzuki method with any new young students. Our executive director would like to start a more formal Suzuki program with the addition of a violin teacher who would attend teacher training with me this summer. We are applying for a grant to help defray the cost of getting the program up and running.

My question is to anyone who has started a Suzuki program or Suzuki school. How did you do it? What steps do we need to take to get started? We already have a facility, and they will handle the financial aspect for us. There are also a couple of music stores we can work with to get small instruments. We just need ideas for recruiting, getting parents to understand the importance of group lessons in addition to individual lessons, and any other suggestions you might have for us.

Any comments, suggestions, ideas, cautions, etc. would be most welcome!
Thank you so much!

Ruth Brons said: Apr 27, 2010
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

A Suzuki violin program can be built just as you have built your cello class, one student, one family at a time.
However, because beginning violin outfits are less expensive [and less cumbersome!] than cello, it can be a bit easier for your violin teacher to recruit new students.

One way to start a violin program is to offer an introductory class, either at your facility, or better, at local schools.
I have done this with a 6 week class called Twinkle/Try It!
Approach local schools about offering the class either right before or right after school. and/or run the class at your facility.
Students can be recruited to the class through a classroom visits and flyer to send home, and/or advertise in the local paper.
Students who sign up [limit the class size to 6-8] are provided a violin to use for the class.
The students are introduced to the basics in the six classes, have fun with the violin [games are a MUST!] and by the end of the 6 classes they need return the provided violin and choose to continue with violin or not.
If they do, they need to get their own violin, sign up for private lessons and group classes at your school.
Then run another Twinkle/Try It! class, and so on.
Keep adding “graduates” from your Twinkle/Try It! classes to your new school group.
Once you have a group class [or more!] at your school, be sure to present well prepared, well-organized group performances at least once or twice a semester—perhaps at local school assemblies, community events, retirement centers, museums, zoos—wherever they will have you!

Best Wishes,

Ruth Brons
Things 4 Strings bow accessories
http://www.things4strings.com

Karen said: Apr 27, 2010
Karen Geyer
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
5 posts

Thank you, Ruth. Great ideas!

Karen

Karen said: Apr 27, 2010
Karen Geyer
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
5 posts

Did you work with a local music store to provide the violins?
Did you have the children buy the Book 1 CD?
Did you have parents attend class so they could practice at home with the kids?
How did you set up the cost of the Twinkle/Try It class so it didn’t scare parents away?

Ruth Brons said: Apr 27, 2010
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

Fortunately I work with a school that invested in 6 [very cheap] violins to support my efforts.
The size of the violin collection has increased over time with donations of outgrown outfits.
At my own expense, I made sure all the violin outfits had sponge shoulder rests and Bow Hold Buddies Instant Bow Hold accessories [my own invention].
You or your executive director may wish to talk to your local violin shop/rental company to see about them helping you—after all, they would love to see a new violin program grow them new customers.

In our 6-week series exploratory Twinkle/Try It! classes, where we recruit from Pre-K through Grade 1, parents are encouraged to attend, but not required.
Some students practiced at home, others waited until they had made the decision to continue with private lessons.
Many made the decision to go to private lessons, and started them, prior to the end of the six weeks.
Others really had to really have it spelled out about what the next step needed to be, as the whole violin idea was coming from their child [from the classroom or assembly demos].
Parents receive the shopping list for instrument, shoulder rest, bow hold accessory, method book, CD and music stand when they make arrangements for private lessons. Home practice plans are discussed in private lessons.

We structured the fee to be as non-scary as possible: $50 for the six classes, plus a $10 “instrument fee.”

Tip: Once you get a group going at your school, its very nice to have the six-week Twinkle/Try It! session end near a group or solo performance so the students can participate, and program instruments can be collected.

Best Wishes,

Ruth Brons
Things 4 Strings bow accessories
http://www.things4strings.com

said: Apr 28, 2010
 89 posts

Ruth, did you find that the no-practice expectation from the intro class affected parent commitment to practice once they signed up for lessons later on?

Barb said: Apr 28, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

My experience is what I remember from my childhood, and a little different from what you are talking about because it was a public school group.

They allowed all interested 4th grade students to take beginner group lessons (pseudo Suzuki) on rental instruments owned by a local music store. Probably the school district rented them, but probably at a very good rate. The violin teacher traveled from school to school carrying these violins. We had violin class twice a week, and I can’t remember how long this trial period was where we learned “Mississippi River” but long enough for maybe 3/4 or half of us to decide we wanted to continue. Because it was a school class there was no fee, but we had to provide our own violins after the trial period. Of course with a referral to the store which had the violins we’d been using! AND the teacher also taught private lessons, which some of us signed up for.

I am SO thankful for that music program in our school which got me started (and allowed me to try the cello at a summer program). I try to pass it forward in a small way, by giving no-obligation, free trial lessons myself. I don’t have a class set of cellos, though, and no local stores… so I do mine as private lessons.

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

Ruth Brons said: Apr 29, 2010
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

Regarding the practice expectation, I make it clear that the Twinkle/Try It! class is, for the children, for exploratory purposes only. No pressure.

HOWEVER, I am mindful that for program building, the Twinkle/Try It! class is for recruiting purposes.

I have only six classes to get the children excited about and able perform something on the violin, AND to ask mom and dad for private lessons, their own violin and materials, and continued group classes.

In addition to basic violin techniques, I definitely include some conversations about what a private lesson is and how daily practice is required for that.
I am clear that while I don’t expect a lot of practice for the Twinkle/Try It! class, that daily practice time will increase gradually with private lessons.
Frankly, I don’t want a lot of home practice during these first few weeks because then there is just more to correct later.
Now, once you get these students into private lessons, are these parents of the new recruits always the well-informed, note-taking parents one sees at summer Institutes?
Not likely, as most often the whole violin idea did not come from them.
This is where parent education can come into play, and where peer motivation can pick up the slack.
Students recruited from the same classroom already know each other, and already have a dynamic of keeping up with each other in place.
After a few years, word gets out among the parents about expectations and results, and the overall quality improves.

But, you have to start somewhere.
If our job as Suzuki teachers is to make good students, the first step is to acquire students.
My program is now 6 years old, with students ranging from Pre-Twinkle through Book 10, and lovely parents—but it did not start that way!

Best Wishes,

Ruth Brons
Things 4 Strings bow hold accessories
http://www.things4strings.com

Karen said: Apr 29, 2010
Karen Geyer
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
5 posts

Thank you all for your input. As a cello teacher, I feel unqualified to teach violin, although I’m sure that’s the instrument most children would relate to. I will be relying on our violin teacher to do that. But do you see a Twinkle/Try It! cello group as a possibility? It would certainly be fun!

Karen Geyer
Northeast Iowa School of Music
http://nisom.com/

Ruth Brons said: Apr 29, 2010
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

Yes, definitely you will need a violinist—and one who really wants to build a program— to do the violin teaching.

Actually, the Twinkle/Try It! idea was an outgrowth of the Twinkle Class my mother, cellist Martha Brons [inventor of the CelloPhant bow hold accessory] was running in her private studio. Rather than a six week class, her Twinkle class is ongoing. Young students continue to attend that class until they are really Twinkling, and then graduate to private lessons and the next level group.

Best Wishes,

Ruth Brons
Things 4 Strings bow hold accessories
http://www.things4strings.com

Karen said: May 3, 2010
Karen Geyer
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
5 posts

After a meeting with our executive director, I now have more questions.
1. How long is each Twinkle/Try It! class session? My pre-Twinkle classes in the past have been 45-60 minutes, but we’re wondering if in this case 30 minutes might be plenty. What has worked best for you? (This will be taking place in preschools and public schools with pre-K thru 1st or 2nd grade.)
2. Would it be a problem in this Twinkle/Try It! setting, if the instruments don’t go home with the kids? We’re concerned about instruments being demolished, and poor habits developing, when the parents are not yet involved. If we keep the instruments with us we can carry them between schools (we’re planning on introducing this program in 3 schools in the fall), and wouldn’t need as many instruments.
3. Having seen “Nurtured by Love”, I know it is excellent and not too long. Would you recommend that or “Every Child Can” (which I have not yet seen) for parents of children who choose to continue into our pre-Twinkle program at the music school?

Thanks again for your input!

Karen Geyer

Ruth Brons said: May 4, 2010
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts
  1. I do a 30 minute Twinkle/Try It! class.
    Although I have to hustle to get everything in, keeps the pace quick and leaves them hungry for more.
    The big advantage is that it is easier to schedule the class when it is shorter.

  2. The advantage of having instruments to send home is that the students don’t want to give them back, and will ask their parents to start lessons because they don’t want to lose having possession of a violin.
    The disadvantages are that you are limited to how many instruments you have available, students may establish bad habits by practicing too soon, and you have to deal with getting those instruments back.
    For several years I taught a third grade curriculum violin program at two private schools, where I needed to get the students Twinkling, and more, for a concert, within 12 large group classes and they did not have instruments to take home.
    One school ran the class once a week, while the other got the classes in over a three week period.
    It was a challenge, but it all got done!

  3. Parent education, as you suggest, would be a great component.
    Perhaps your new violin teacher can host an evening meeting once each session, without the children, to show “Nurtured by Love” and do a Q & A.
    The “Every Child Can!” would be wonderful to offer perhaps once a year.
    ECC is usually an all day class, with lunch break, and has lovely videos, topics and materials that make the hours fly by.
    But the costs associated with running the class [materials fee and SAA teacher trainer fee], require at least a minimum number of parents to register for it.
    The plus side for this class is that it applies to all Suzuki instruments of study, and is of interest to not only new and continuing parents but to teachers and those needing it as a pre-requisite for further SAA training.

Best Wishes,

Ruth Brons
Things 4 Strings[tm] bow accessories
http://www.things4strings.com

Elizabeth said: Jul 2, 2012
Elizabeth SkinnerViolin, Viola
Essex Junction, VT
8 posts

Hi Ruth,

I’m wondering if you have any updates/additional lessons learned to your Twinkle/Try it Now! program.

I am flirting with the idea of putting together a 3 child/parent class at the preschool level.

How successful are preschool aged kids if you DON’T have the parent at the lesson/class? Do you send home notes/practice points every class? I know that you said that you don’t want them to do too much at home because of the danger of acquiring bad habits….

Thanks!

Laura said: Jul 3, 2012
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Stanton, MN
25 posts

I teach a group class at an elementary school. It’s Wed morning, during an hour of teacher development. The public schools in our area have an hour later start to the school day Wed mornings. Just the kids attend the class, not the parents, though parents are welcome to attend and sometimes observe. All the students have their private lesson on Monday/Tuesday. I happened to have mostly Kindergarten aged kids this past year, some 1st and 2nd graders as well. I find that the instruction goes well w/o parents present. I don’t introduce new technical concepts in class, instead, I reinforce concepts that I know the kids know, or that I know they are working on at home with their parents. For example, if one child is working on opening an arm at the elbow and has been given exercises for this during the lesson to work on at home, I may choose to reinforce this in the group lesson. That child gets a double dose of instruction that week. It reinforces a concept the other students do pretty well, but everyone can always use a reminder. (You can never reinforce a concept too much in my mind). The child working on this concept has the added bonus of watching other students with their mastery of this concept. I might choose 2-3 fun activities to teach this.

Our class did a lot of rhythm and improv work. I would bring a simple phrase (eg. Elegant Elephants Dancing On Their Toes). We would whisper this around the group via “Banana Telephone.” We’d laugh at what came out at the end. We would figure out what rhythms to use to clap this rhyme, then we would choose notes to pluck to the rhythm. (Open strings for this young group). We essentially created our own song. The kids loved it and the group dynamics made this type of work a lot of fun. It also taught ensemble playing, as we worked on plucking in unison—it prepared us well for group Twinkle work.

I also use this time for some music theory. I introduced names of strings, parts of the violin, names of notes, note values, etc. I do some workbook pages (Freddy Fiddle and Betty Bow). Again, the kids like the group dynamic, working on this with their friends.

Our favorite ending activity is Musical Chairs. Either I play, or another student (often this is where the more advanced students have a chance to play what they have polished) plays a song, while the other kids circle the chairs. The student who plays gets practice playing for the group and sharing a song. (Not to mention starting and stopping in the middle of their piece). This is a wonderful listening activity for the other students. Sometimes we march to the beat of the music around the chairs.

I never send home “homework” from this group class. I don’t think this would work without parents present, nor is this type of instruction the focus of my group lesson. This group class builds a wonderful sense of community among the violinists at this school, and a level of intimacy among the players that I think is wonderful and supports them in their love for their instrument.

Ruth Brons said: Jul 16, 2012
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

Vtrtmama asked for any updates/additional lessons learned in my 6 weekTwinkle/Try it Now! recruiting class program.

As a recruiting tool the program was so successful is creating a culture of violin lessons in the school, that the violin teachers in our program all had full teaching schedules without running the 6-week class this past year.

Your idea of putting together a 3 child/parent class at the preschool level may be worth a try—especially if the attending parent can email class note or videos to the missing parents.

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