Question about progress

said: Jun 27, 2006
 6 posts

My son is 8 1/2 and has been studying violin for five years (come October). He is on Minuet II in Book I. Most other parents are shocked to hear this. I think he could easily be much further along. I believe he is held back by several factors having nothing to do with his ability. His teacher has her students give dozens of performances a year, much of it music not from the Suzuki book (fiddling, etc.) All of her students seem to be at the same level for their ‘age group,’ as though no one is allowed to progress past what she deems appropriate for their age. I have even begun to wonder quite cynically if this a way for her to make more money!

Since I volunteer as her piano accompanist, she often uses my son’s lesson time to rehearse with me. Over the years, I have tried to tell her that I would like the balance of Suzuki vs. other instruction to be a bit more geared toward the former, but we always seem to fall back into the same pattern (it’s more like 70% other and 30% Suzuki). As I say this, I am suprised I have never put my foot down. I have always had a sense that it is a no-no to bring up “progress” with Suzuki people (including the teacher) so I have not done so. But just saying these things makes me realize how frustrated I am. I am normally much more assertive; I’m not sure why I don’t confront the teacher about this.

To her credit, she is devoted to Suzuki instruction and is gifted with great patience and the ability to see talent in every student. She attends training sessions regularly and stays professionally active. My son is very fond of her, and I wouldn’t want to change teachers without good reason.

Obviously, there are years of baggage here that make this all sound very complicated. This message probably sounds scattered, and I realize I lack perspective. My question is: what is the experience of other parents with regard to their child’s “progress” through the Suzuki books? What philosophy do you hold about the rate at which a child should progress?

said: Jun 27, 2006
 22 posts

I’m sure that many others won’t agree with me on this, but, in my opinion, a student can progress as quickly as he wants to. Right now, as long as your son is happy with learning folk/fiddling, etc. as well as suzuki, I think that’s all that matters. However, your teacher using his lesson time for her own practice, is not acceptable. I would confront her and let her know, that while you are very happy to play for her, you come with your son to his lesson so he can have a lesson. I rememember when I was learning suzuki, my friends and I would always compare with eachother “which book are you in” “what song are you on?”, and if I happened to be the one ‘behind’, that would completely lower my self esteem, making me learn even slower. I would try to make sure that your son never compares himself with others, only himself. :)

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

Connie Sunday said: Jun 27, 2006
Connie SundayViolin, Piano, Viola
670 posts

I’ll probably get into trouble here and hurt someone’s feelings, and I apologize for that in advance. But I have a lot of students come into my studio or just play for me, and they’ve had a teacher for 2-5 years and are still in the first Suzuki book.

I don’t care how old they were when they started, or what their disabilities may be, if any, but I think that’s absurd. I don’t see any value in staying on the same piece for months.

I guess my question to you (mom) would be, does this teacher play well, herself, and what is her training and background?

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Melissa said: Jun 28, 2006
 151 posts

This is a very interesting post.
Let me give you my perspective. I feel piano does take longer than violin because there is more music involved. Melody and accompaniment. I have had students go anywhere from 1 year to 4 years in accomplishing Book 1. It is important to me that they can play Book 1 well, before starting Book 2.
When my daughter was taking violin, it took her two years before she started book 2. I was okay with this. To me quality over quantity made sense. She too was playing fiddle music.
If you think about the age that he started, 3 1/2? Then being 8 1/2 and being towards the end of Book 1 is fine. Does he enjoy the fiddle music? It would be nice if the teacher could be more focused on Suzuki. Also, I agree with the other poster, you son definately needs his lesson time, I would talk to the teacher abut this. Nothing is wrong either asking the teacher what the “average” is when it comes to going through the books.
Does her other students play well? Does she have any advanced students? Sometimes slower is faster in the long run.
If your son likes her, then that’s wonderful! You can talk to her privately about your concerns.

said: Jun 28, 2006
 6 posts

I really appreciate people’s replies about the pace at which my son’s teacher moves through the Suzuki book. I will clarify that, fortunately, my son has almost no sense of comparing himself to others. It’s me that does that! (’:oops:’) I think I started him young enough to where he still just thinks of violin as something he does every day, not so much a talent or a skill at which he is obliged to progress. I suppose the “comparing himself” kicks in soon, and I’m not sure how to handle that, really. We’ll be attending the Stevens Point institute for the first time, so that may be an eye opener (for both of us!)

Parents: who do you feel should be the “authority” on the pace of a child’s progress? My son doesn’t push himself without encouragement. But I like the idea of one poster who said that his enjoying himself is the important thing. What about challenging our children, and high expectations?

said: Jun 28, 2006
 104 posts

I think whether or not your son is enjoying himself, you owe it to yourself to determine exactly what kind of program your teacher is running. You say she is a dedicated Suzuki teacher, but I don’t understand why a dedicated Suzuki teacher would spend only 30% of her time on Suzuki repertoire. If a student has been playing for five years and has been learning other repertoire which is graded and progressivley advanced, then he should be able to play comparably difficult pieces—but if your son has been playing for five years and all of the pieces he plays (Suzuki and non-Suzuki) are at the level of early Book 1, then you might want to find out why.

I do agree that sometimes slower is faster. I have seen kids who progress very rapidly through the material but have terrible tone, posture etc. A slow start-up and careful set-up and attention to tone are all excellent things; five years, however, is not anywhere near the average time it takes to go through Book 1.

I think your trip to an Institute will definitely open your eyes. Your son will make friends, and when he goes back the following year, there will be the standard Suzuki-Kid question: What piece are you on? It’s just a natural question.

I’ve attended several workshops and institutes with my children—the age of children in various groups varies widely—but it is not at all unusual to see kids who 5 and 6 years old on the Book 1 Minuets. By the time kids are 8 or 9, many of them are in Book 2 and 3. And of course, you will see tiny, tiny kids (ages 6 or 7 even) who are in book 7 and 8! Very inspiring. You also see late beginners (kids who are 8 or older) in early Book 1 — no one makes them feel bad about being in groups with 4 and 5 year olds, but I think they are self-motivated to move up. At the institues, they may do some age-matching, but the groups are ultimately constructed around polished piece, not age.

I would have a private chat with your son’s teacher and let her know how you feel. In a situation like this, I believe the dissatisfied party owes the other party (who may be completely oblivious to the other’s dissatisfaction) one calm and clear summary of her perspective. Use sentences that begin: “I notice….” or “It seems to me…..” “I don’t understand, but maybe you could explain…..” You can then add on “My goals for my son include…..” and “How do you think these goals could be accomplished?” Perhaps she doesn’t really have a vision for your son as a musician, and maybe you need a teacher who does have such a vision.

said: Jun 28, 2006
 22 posts


We’ll be attending the Stevens Point institute for the first time, so that may be an eye opener (for both of us!)quote]

I’ve never attended that institute, but I know the woman in charge, and it is a fabulous program! I believe it’s the 2nd largest in America……..have fun!!! :)

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

said: Jun 28, 2006
 7 posts

One thing that strikes me about your post, herself….you say your group has “dozens of performances a year”. That is very unusual! I think your teacher probably really enjoys the public performance aspect of directing a group. And that is pretty special! Also, playing folk tunes written in common time in Amajor or Gmajor with simple rhythms is truly enough for some families…usually NOT committed Suzuki families, though.

Stevens Point is a really exciting learning opportunity. Your son will get feedback from his small group teacher that will better help you understand your situation and what your son is capable of.

said: Jun 28, 2006
 6 posts

I very much appreciate the many aspects of my post that people have commented on. Thank you, everyone.

The last poster is correct in assuming that my son’s teacher enjoys public performance. It is her joy, and I certainly think that’s been a positive element for my son.

But now I also realize that at Steven’s Point, he will be in a group doing Minuet I with children half his size. He may be inspired to work harder because of this, but I fear it will be a source of discomfort for both of us that week.

I rarely meet anyone who seems as purist as I understand Suzuki himself was with regard to the belief that every child has talent.

said: Jun 28, 2006
 22 posts

When love is deep, much can be accomplished :). You mentioned, herself, that your son will be with children who are much younger than him. In the past, I have been to an institute and watched a group of book 1 students perform-yes, most of them were quite small, but several of the students were in elementary or even high school. What I love is that, no matter the age or level, everybody is so supportive of eachother. I hope you have a positive learning experience!!

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

said: Jun 29, 2006
 104 posts

Herself—please DON’T let it be a source of discomfort to you that your son will be playing with younger children. As a homeschooling parent, one of the things I love about homeschooling is that children can break out of the “restrictions” of age-defined criteria. It’s not uncommon to see “schooled” kids turn up their nose at something because “that’s for third grade” when they are in fourth-grade. You even see kids who won’t play with other children who are a grade or two below them. Suzuki Method is a little bit like homeschooling, IMO, because children are NOT defined by grade or age—there is NO “fourth-grade” group, or nine-year-old group, but rather groups are arranged around polished pieces.

I think this encourages children to consider life from a different perspective. After all, hardly any of my friends are in the “36-year-old group” and it doesn’t make one bit of difference in our relationships! I know some people in the 44-year-old group who can’t drive as well as I do and I also know some 29-year-old who are better drivers than I am. Age has little to do with ability. Help your son to understand that and you will both find the institute experience much more enlightening.

said: Aug 2, 2006
 5 posts

Hi again,

I posted a reply to you under your Asperger’s question. We should talk sometime! In the welcoming package we received when we arrived at camp last week, there was a Suzuki minimagazine. In it is an article by Lamar Blum called “The Ins and Outs of Progress.” In the article, he states,”As a teacher I would not think there is a lack of progress if the attitude of the parent is one of patience and trust in what the teacher is doing. If the parent has the child’s best interest at heart and if practice time is a regular event, something is happening inside the child. Progress is usually defined as movement. Movement isn’t always forward. It will be sideways, backwards, diagonally and sometimes up and down in the learning prossess.” … “Suzuki said, ‘An invisible growing faculty helped to breed a new ability until it became visible to all.’ “

My 10y/o Asperger’s daughter began lessons when she was 6. She is on the Lully Gavotte in Bk. 2 She has worked darn hard to get that far! I do trust her teacher and it has been hard for me to see her peers pass her. BUT, my DD has a SOLID repitoir (sp?) and is benefitting from the structure of daily practice and lessons. All of a sudden, just in May, something kicked in, and I am seeing a whole new child, she wants to learn for herself! I believe wholeheartedly that it’s a maturity issue. Now she says, I WANT to practice! She wants to go back to Institute next year and be in (or out of) book 3.

Hang in there, and make sure your son knows all his old songs for rep class.


Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow, grow.”

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