Importance of Groups Lessons in the Suzuki Method

Mark said: Jun 22, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
20 posts

Recently, I received a call from a mother of one of my students to get my opinion about a concern she had about group lessons. This particular student is a preteen who has done exceptional work this past year: she can demonstrate a clear beautiful tone, consistent intonation and a growing musicianship. “Should my daughter be involved in groups next year because she currently is getting nothing out if it.” This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered this kind of concern when a student is heading toward adolescence. But I was quick to point out how passionately I believe in the importance and place of group lessons and how she needs it more than ever. I mentioned to the mother that her daughter needs to continue to develop her confidence by mastering her review, be involved with other students who play more advanced pieces, hear and watch them play pieces she will soon be learning, and grow in her ability to cooperate and respect her fellow students.

As I organize my thoughts for that first lesson in September with this student, because we’ll have to have a serious talk about group lessons, I thought it would be interesting to put the question of the importance of group lessons up for discussion. Why do you believe in groups? Or do you have an anecdote from your experience with your students that would highlight the importance of group lessons? Looking forward to your comments.

Irene said: Jun 24, 2011
Irene YeongViolin
160 posts

As a parent , I look forward to group lessons for my daughter. My daugther is very young and she looks up to the older kids there. They happen to be very good violin students and my daughter just loves to imitate them. Good influence on my daughter.
never thought it that way, that a group lesson is not beneficial, isn’t it nice to play in groups, that’s one of the best thing from playing violin, you can play together with everyone else. that is so much fun..

Ruth Brons said: Jun 24, 2011
Ruth Brons
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
Livingston, NJ
148 posts

Without a doubt, as a rule, students who participate in group out pace those that don’t.
Group lessons are vitally important in terms of review, preview, peer motivation, fun, and concert prep. The question is, do advanced students need to come to group forever, on through high school, when they are involved in an orchestra or two, chamber music, school musicals, etc.

I strongly encourage my students to attend weekly group and private lessons, and, when ready, to participate in a quality orchestra program [we have several to choose from in our area, in addition to school orchestra programs]. However, there comes a point when a teen student might perhaps move on to contribute/develop their talents with chamber music, or other small group options.

MaryLou Roberts said: Jun 25, 2011
MaryLou RobertsTeacher Trainer
Institute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Guitar
Ann Arbor, MI
244 posts

I have a handout about the importance of group class, and can share it. Right now I am in Colombia teaching, so anyone interested, email me after July 5. Short answer; it is a valid question that needs a thoughtful answer! marylou

Malgosia Lis said: Jun 25, 2011
Malgosia LisInstitute Director
Suzuki Association Member
Piano
West Hartford, CT
15 posts

MaryLou,
Would love to see your hand out.
In the last 5 years I lost 3 students to the usual 7th-8th grade slump. A lot of kids go through this and the group classes is what keeps them playing and practicing through those tough early teenage years. The 3 students did not attend groups, or rather stopped attending around 6th grade due to soccer, ballet,________ insert your other favorite activity here. Sad.

Jacob Litoff said: Jun 25, 2011
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Cello, Viola
Millis, MA
46 posts

I agree taking part in group classes or playing in an ensemble is what makes students practice and want to keep it up. Personally I like them to be playing chamber music or easy string orchestra pieces together more than group classes. Even having two kids have a class learning to play the two parts of the Bach Double violin concerto together makes it a great challenge that keeps them practicing. At my latest student concert I had two brothers playing 4 of the Michael McLean pieces and arrangements. They seemed to love playing McLean’s music more than any other pieces I’d taught them. We did the Tango, The Csardas, the Brahms Hungarian dance#5 and Villoldo’s Tango El Choclo. It can be frustrating when students’ other activities conflict sometimes(chess, soccer, ballet..etc..) But playing with others definitely makes them want to keep it up and find the time. Starting the kids young helps them be more advanced and more committed by the time they’re in their early teens.

Cynthia Faisst said: Jun 25, 2011
Cynthia Faisst
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
Irvine, CA
127 posts

I am always thinking of ways that more experienced students can assist with less experienced students. This is not only to keep them interested and involved but to also allow them to realize how really difficult it is to learn something that they know how to do and may take for granted. When they see what happens to another student’s performance, when that student has difficulty applying a particular technique it reinforces the necessity to master that technique in their own playing. They also realize why some skills need to be broken down into smaller bites. When I give them opportunities to demonstrate that technique for more novice students they often perform it with more care than they would for themselves.

Ms. Cynthia
Studio:
Talent Education Center: Suzuki Violin
Director of Santa Ana Suzuki Strings located at the
Orange County Children’s Therapeutic Arts Center
Volunteer, bring music to under-served communities around the world. Create Sound Investments and Futures.

Elizabeth Friedman said: Jul 10, 2011
Elizabeth Friedman
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Viola
49 posts

I can relate (at least in my memory) to the adolescent desire to share more advanced musical pursuits because I, too, outgrew group class and moved on to good-quality orchestras. Kids are always wanting to be and act older… perhaps if a group class for older, more advanced students resembles a conservatory/university technique class and includes scales, études, and class performances, then it continues to be really helpful and, as a teacher, you can point to that and say “hey, this is what you’d be doing in college.” But the reality is, for students who might later on desire to actually become professional musicians, the focus should be less on playing concert rep in unison and more on learning how to fit divergent chamber and orchestra parts together. That is, after all, the next logical step. There isn’t enough time in the week for a student to prepare for weekly private and group Suzuki lessons, as well as one or two orchestras, a sport (which I definitely advocate to increase well-roundedness and to stave off injury), and do their no doubt challenging homework. Something has to give… and if a student is truly ready and you don’t have anyone around them at their level to help push them and keep them challenged, it’s probably time to let them put their time into some other worthy group musical pursuit.

Jennifer Visick said: Jul 11, 2011
Jennifer VisickForum Moderator
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Suzuki in the Schools, Violin
998 posts

Well, there’s a lot of ways an advanced group class can be focused on more advanced (and slightly different) things than the beginner’s and intermediate Suzuki repertoire classes.

  1. start with changing the repertoire—

  2. Chamber Music or chamber orchestra (learning to fit multiple parts together with only a few people (or only 1 person) on a part

  3. Performance Class / Master Class (practice performing, and watching others perform, bring in guest teachers, etc.)

  4. Orchestra sectionals (getting familiar with standard orchestral rep, “standard” bowings, introducing the students to the tricky excerpts, etc.)

  5. topical Technique seminars or workshops (e.g. a vibrato class, an advanced intonation class, a shifting class, a bowing technique class, a sight reading class, an improv class, and extended technique workshop, a composition class, etc)

  6. Mentoring: make the advanced students into Teacher’s Aids for the intermediate and beginner’s classes

  7. learn an instrument that’s complementary to your primary instrument. E.g., viola for violinists or violin for violists, or harpsichord for pianists or organ for pianists or… well I’m not sure about wind instruments: but maybe recorder consort for flute? bass for cellists and cello for bassists? or viola for cellists and cello for violists.

  8. …then there’s the “show choir” option, something like Ed Kreitman does (http://www.wsste.com/wsste/Performing_Groups.html)

Kamilah Simba-Torres said: May 31, 2013
Kamilah Simba-TorresViolin, Piano, Cello, Viola
Fresno, CA
2 posts

Group classes are an integral part of becoming a fine musician. My group classes are required 2x month and I have seen tremendous growth in all my students at all levels. My more advanced students must play the reviews in position and use vibrato. It’s the perfect opportunity to practice these techniques. It’s helpful to pull out the less reviewed pieces on occasion to make a point that all pieces are important.
We also use this time to read Christmas music and ensemble music and then perform it around the community. The bond my students and parents have gained with each other is priceless. I also have students read music that is at different levels to accommodate the different playing and reading levels. There is lots of music available for this.
Twice a year I have students perform their current piece for each other including the more advanced students giving them a chance to show off and a chance for the younger students to be impressed and motivated. There is also a time for constructive criticism as well.
I make it clear in my studio that group class is part of my studio and everyone is an important part.

Musically Yours,
K.C. Simba-Torres

Emily said: Dec 2, 2013
 59 posts

I think that group lessons are very important, not only does it build better skills, but also a better self-esteem. It is important for students to see other students model the songs that they will be playing very shortly so that they will become familiar with them ahead of time.

Emily Christensen
Music Teacher & Writer
www.musiceducationmadness.org

Timothy Judd said: Dec 3, 2013
Timothy Judd
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Glen Allen, VA
56 posts

Group classes can build a great foundation for ensemble skills. Playing together as a cohesive group and listening to the collective sound prepares students to approach orchestra playing with the right attitude.

There is also great benefit to returning to the old pieces and playing them in a more advanced way (full bow for example).

As students enter mid to late adolescence it may be harder for them to relate to the younger children. At that point it may be good for them to transition to youth orchestra and come back for group performances and recitals. However, old pieces can always be played with better tone and musicianship, so no student should ever feel “bored” in group class.

timothyjuddviolin.com blog

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