Advice/recommendations to give my little girl the best violin lessons
February 7, 2010 11:28 AM   Subscribe

My 6 year old is getting ready to start taking violin lessons (taking Suzuki method). What can I expect and what do you recommend to give her the best results?

Her mom played violia in high school, so she knows a little so we aren't going in blind, but any advice would be great... She is so excited too it's so cute
posted by ShawnString to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I started Suzuki cello lessons when I was 5. The biggest thing I remember was being horribly disappointed by how slowly things progressed. I didn't even get to touch the bow for weeks, and wasn't allowed to play recognizable songs for months and months. Impress upon your daughter that this period is agonizing but necessary, because if you start playing too soon, before you've learned good posture and technique, it's going to take years to unlearn the bad habits you pick up.
posted by coppermoss at 11:38 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The hardest part about starting with a stringed instrument is that it will take some time before she can produce an acceptable tone, and even more before she can begin to play melodies. Suzuki is in part designed around this observation, though. It has its detractors, but I (a former serious string player and a music professor) am not one of them. The fiddle doesn't give the quick positive reinforcement of learning the piano, for example. You can help by being prepared for a lot of screeching sounds you should bear with equanimity.

You want to get her a decent quality instrument of course. Well maintained, violins have excellent resale value, and I think the sweet spot for a student violin approaches $1000 these days. You can maybe get ok quality in the $500 range, but any less than that and you will be trading frustration for dollars if she takes to it at all seriously, and lessening the chance that she will. Be very consistent about teaching her to care for the instrument -- wipe it, put it in the case, loosen the bow, etc. It's actually fun, and part of the sensual pleasure of being a string player.

WATCH violin players on TV, on videos, or best, live and in person. If there's a university with a music department near you, take her to hear student violin recitals, which will be free.

But as a kid who grew up labeled "musical," I would also say just relax and don't put much pressure on her about it. Don't put *no* pressure -- learning music is learning responsibility for practicing, for being on time to lessons, and many other life lessons. If it's meant to be her thing, she will let you know. If not, it's still valuable and fun.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:39 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

coppermoss is also very right about posture and technique, by the way. In fact, if your daughter gets at all serious after a year or so, I'd say move from Suzuki to private instruction with a good teacher. Starting off right with that stuff is utterly critical if you're going to pursue a stringed instrument seriously. It's terribly hard to unlearn bad bow grip, posture, etc.
posted by fourcheesemac at 11:42 AM on February 7, 2010

Best answer: Put emphasis on posture now - habits are going to made, for good or for worse, in the earliest years of learning. If she learns bad posture now, it will be so much more difficult to break later on. She'll never reach her full potential, no matter how well she plays if she's not sitting right - slouching dampens the sound produced by the instrument. Teach her that it isn't just the instrument making the sounds, it's her, and her body is an extension of it.

Also teach her that care of the violin is extremely important, and that she knows to clean and properly store it. You want to get her a quality instrument, but don't go dropping too too much cash on it now, as she will grow out of it and need a larger size. If you can do it, supplement her work with the Suzuki method with a private instructor too.

And keep it fun. The less she sees it as work, the more likely it will be that she'll practice on her own more and more without having to be reminded. And be as encouraging as possible. As a violinist who began at the same age, I remember being so discouraged at times that I just didn't want to do it anymore. But the enthusiasm that my family had, even when I hit notes that made their skin crawl, was very encouraging. Twenty years later, I'm still playing.
posted by sephira at 11:50 AM on February 7, 2010

Best answer: I'm a Suzuki Method violin teacher, former Suzuki student.

First of all, listening really is the key to Suzuki Method. Knowing the songs inside and out makes it SO MUCH easier for the student. So, when your teacher says to listen to the CD every day, make sure you do that. And then listen some more. And then, a little more. Having two copies of the CD (one for the car, one for home) can make it easier as well.

Secondly, the method will break violin technique - position especially - down into tiny pieces. Find ways to make this repetition of small things fun. You want your daughter to build sense memory of her position, so it doesn't take too much work after a while. I do a sticker chart with my daughter - she gets a sticker every time we practice, and after ten stickers she gets a little prize (dollar store stuff - we don't do candy or food rewards). My mother did sticker charts with us, lottery tickets (we would get to scratch off a window after each practice), punch ticket games - she took alot of ideas from the Price is Right! It was very successful, and we loved it.

Remember that Dr. Suzuki said, "You only don't practice on the days you don't eat!" He really meant it - having a consistent practice time each day will make it easier for your daughter. Try to find the time of day that is best for her, where she has the most energy and attention for the task at hand. If she knows that violin practice happens every morning after breakfast, there will be less protest as things become more complex. A consistent schedule and the use of incentives will make things go more smoothly. Some of my parents object at first to using incentives, but seriously - very few kids will practice an instrument consistently just from the love of it. And even fewer will practice because they know it's "good for them." Try to keep it fun.

It may seem too soon to think about this, but you may want to make it a goal for next summer to get yourselves to a Suzuki Summer Institute. My family attended the one in Ithaca, NY for many years, and I eventually joined their summer Chamber Music Institute, which was amazing. My mother has said that she feels the promise of Ithaca really kept our violin program humming - the high from going to camp lasted several months after, and by the time things started feeling tedious again the brochures for the next session arrived in the mail. Playing with other students is one of the pillars of Talent Education.

Lastly, I'm sure your teacher has already recommended Nurtured By Love as initial reading, but I also highly recommend Ability Development from Age Zero (by Suzuki) and The Suzuki Violinist (by Willam Starr). Suzuki Method is a philosophy of child development, not just musical instruction. It's good to re-read the books on philosophy periodically, because it reminds you why you are doing what you're doing.

Have a great time!
posted by chihiro at 11:54 AM on February 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

After reading the other responses, I really feel I need to say something to the "find a private instructor/non-Suzuki teacher if she gets serious."

Any teacher can be a poor one, regardless of the philosophy they claim to follow. And it's also good to realize that some teachers call themselves "Suzuki" but use only the repertoire and not the actual method. If you found your teacher through the Suzuki Association of the Americas, you shouldn't have too much of a problem. If you haven't yet, get to some lessons or a recital to observe your prospective teacher's students. If many of them have poor tone, poor intonation, and poor position, then it's probably the teacher's fault. Make sure you've found someone who insists on a quality result - they are out there!
posted by chihiro at 12:08 PM on February 7, 2010

I didn't mean to insult Suzuki teachers chihiro. My emphasis was more on the value of private instruction as such, by whatever method.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:42 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

(The reason being that if you want to raise a serious classical musician, you have to be willing to forego an absolute commitment to nurturing child development; that's the pressure I'm advising the OP not to put on this child. Classical music at the higher levels is fiercely competitive business, requiring a distortion of a normal childhood. I grew up with that to some extent, and it worked OK for me, but I wouldn't advise it unless the kid is deeply and intrinsically motivated by music in apparent ways.)
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:44 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I learned from the Suzuki method from about 3rd grade to about 7th grade. Then I quit.

To be clear: quitting was my own (12 year-old) decision. But, when I think back on it, what I really hated about learning the violin was the Suzuki method's emphasis on memorization. My memory is actually very good, and was even better then, so, sure, I memorized all the notes. But, as it turned out, I am the type of guy who likes to figure things out for myself, to understand the big picture, and to be allowed to experiment and learn material that has not been assigned. The Suzuki method (at least as it was taught to me) allowed none of these things. When I quit, it was a huge relief.

Of course, hindsight 20/20 and all that, but knowing myself as I do now, I think that it all would have been a lot more fun if I had been taught how to read sheet music, been given a book, and encouraged to explore. In retrospect, maybe I should have just created those opportunities for myself. But that just wasn't the way my mind worked at the time.

So my advice is: pay attention to whether your child actually enjoys the Suzuki method, and don't be afraid to break the rules if you think it would benefit her.
posted by bingo at 1:43 PM on February 7, 2010

Seconding chihiro's recommendation of reading Nurtured by Love (and if your teacher is one of the Suzuki faithful, this will be required anyway). I think one of the things that sometimes gets lost in the implementation of Suzuki's ideas is the fact that he was not out to craft a master-race of super violinists -- he believed that studying music made you a better and happier human being, and should be approached with joy and love. That sounds all hippy-fantastic, but it's a good thing to return to when you end up in the umpteenth Talmudic discussion of the perfect bow hold.

I've played alongside, and taught alongside, Suzuki-trained and certified teachers. I've borrowed liberally from them but am not, and do not aspire to be, an orthodox Suzuki teacher. Especially for young musicians, I think it's a great way to get kids into an instrument, training their ears, and developing the disciplined habits that will come in handy whether they end up pursuing music seriously or not.

There are plenty of things Suzuki-style pedagogy doesn't teach you, of course: any style of music other than classical (mostly Baroque, really, for quite a while). Improvisation skills. I've found that many Suzuki students are great players but poor sight readers, as they mostly learn by ear. As your child gets older, if s/he sticks with the instrument I think a more varied musical/pedagogical diet can only foster growth and is highly recommendable.
posted by dr. boludo at 2:20 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I don't know enough about Suzuki to say whether my own education was or not, but there are some observations you should keep in mind:

* The violin is unfretted. This means you give your child a tuned violin and not hear a single correct note come from it, if their finger placement is off. Prepare for bad sounds as your student learns this for themselves. A quick crutch for students is to place narrow tape markers on the instrument for a specific key. It's more important to be able to feel where they are rather than see, because your musician's eyes should be elsewhere.
* Practice is repetition. You know those songs on tape your kids watched and sang with over and over again? Imagine that, except they hit the same phrase repeatedly.
* Endurance matters. A quick thought experiment. Hold your arms up like you're playing the violin, and keep it there for five minutes. Especially in the beginning, practice time will start short and slowly rise. Also bear in mind that it can hurt fingers. You're pressing down on metal with your soft fingers. Don't push (the student) too hard.
posted by pwnguin at 3:19 PM on February 7, 2010

The Suzuki method is definitely a popular choice for young students, and the emphasis on training your ear and forming good habits is very valuable. However, the method - and its focus on classical (particularly Baroque) music - has its limitations, and it's worth it to be aware of them. My personal and probably-biased suggestions:

-Work on sight reading. Learning by ear is great, and I wish I'd done more of it when I was starting out. However, being able to sight read is also really valuable, and a lot of the kids I knew who learned straight Suzuki were fairly bad at it. If you're a good sight reader, you can take a bunch of sheet music and play through it pretty quickly, getting a decent overview of the piece - lots of fun, really, and for me it provided some valuable quick positive reinforcement.

-(Classical) violin, along with piano, is one of the most common instruments for students to learn. Unfortunately, this means that playing classical violin can feel fairly competitive, and that there's always another student violinist who's much, much better than you. As someone who started playing violin a few years later than most students, I found this really frustrating, and it contributed to my decision to drop the instrument for a number of years. (Though this is certainly subjective, I feel like there's less of a feeling of competition in, say, the folk scene.)

-Remember that there's more to violin than classical music (which is the main focus of Suzuki-style teaching.) It's great, but it's limited, and it may not be what your daughter actually enjoys listening to and playing the most. Luckily, you can play jazz and folk and rock on a fiddle as well. You can improvise, and embellish, and jam with friends, and play with amplifiers and effects pedals. (This is actually what brought me back to the instrument!) If your daughter finds that she enjoys any of these genres more than classical, consider finding a teacher who's good at those styles.

-Particularly if your daughter ends up interested in non-classical genres, look into focusing more on music theory. Since the violin is primarily a melodic instrument in classical music, a lot of teachers skimp when going over, say, chords. You can get away with that at first if you're playing primarily classical music, but it will make improvising and playing non-classical styles much harder. Taking up piano or guitar as a second instrument is also a good way to address this.
posted by ubersturm at 3:38 PM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I only took lessons using the Suzuki method for a few years... and not until I was in high school. My teacher told me to listen to the song I was working on, and the next song coming up, ten times every day. I did this faithfully... and it really made the difference in my progress. I've taken lessons with other teachers as well, took lessons in college with traditional instruction, but that is one thing I really took away from my Suzuki instruction. Listen.

The ear training. It works. Listen to the songs at LEAST ten times every day. I had to use cassette tapes, and endlessly rewind, stop, rewind, stop. So, especially for the six-year-old, where the songs are SO short, and you can put the CD on repeat... there's not any reason in the world it should be a problem to listen to the songs, but a lot of people don't do it for some reason.

Don't shortchange the listening. Listen to the Suzuki music. Listen to other music as well. String music, orchestras, quartets, jazz, all kinds. You'll help your child develop a musical sense, even while the musical skills are barely there.
posted by eleyna at 4:14 PM on February 7, 2010

Suzuki's great and has a lot of guidelines built in. Just do what they ask you to do.

Play the CD many times a day while the kid is doing other things. Sometimes you can get the kid to sing along, other times just let it be background music while the kid is playing or bathing or in the car or whatever.
Keep the violin accessible so the kid can practice easily without a ton of setup.
Make the practice space somewhere fun and central- in a bright, warm room where a parent is doing dishes or reading is WAY more fun than alone in the basement.
Make practicing a fun thing the kid "gets" to do instead of a chore they "have" to do. Try never to be naggy about it- keep all the associations positive.
Attend group lessons and concerts as possible so your kid will be inspired by other kids.

I took Suzuki for years as an older child and I loved it and am soooo glad I did. Have fun with it- it's so cute watching little kids learn musicality!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:46 PM on February 7, 2010

Ms. flabdablet started violin young (with a Suzuki instructor, as it happens). She doesn't play much now, but still has chronic trouble with tight muscles between the shoulder blades. So yeah, pay lots of attention to good physical form, and if little ShawnString hurts, rest.
posted by flabdablet at 6:01 PM on February 7, 2010

I was a Suzuki violin student between the ages of 7-16, and I absolutely loved it... at first. Starting out it's slow, and especially to an impatient child (is there any other kind) it can often seem like you're making no progress at all. I had an excellent private teacher and then, after a couple years, started taking a weekly group lesson as well.

By the time I was in middle school I was pretty committed. Practicing was always a problem for me, and it helped that my parents encouraged practice without actually requiring it. It was always something I wanted to do, rather than just another daily chore.

My only real problem with Suzuki was that by the time I got into middle/high school and joined the school orchestra, it was really obvious that I had been a Suzuki student because I had excellent tone and technique and virtually no sight-reading skills. Although that was probably a personal failing rather than an issue with the method itself. Anyway, school orchestra followed by switching to a more traditional class helped me get over that hurdle, and I played all the way through college. It's a wonderful way to start as a musician.
posted by kella at 6:06 PM on February 7, 2010

I started out on the Suzuki method, and it was a great learning tool. But it was also incredibly boring at times which often discouraged me from practicing. What helped with this was having other sheet music that I actually liked and picked out myself. When I was younger, it was usually something simple like movie tunes I recognized and was mostly playing by ear anyway, but it was welcome relief from playing "Go Tell Aunt Rhodie" for half an hour every day while keeping me focused. As I grew older and more experienced with the instrument, I picked out more complicated music for myself, so by the time my instructor felt it was time to leave Suzuki behind, I was well prepared.
posted by katillathehun at 6:09 PM on February 7, 2010

Best answer: The Suzuki debate seems to be raging quite well already without my input so I won't go too much into my personal feelings. Suzuki sucks. If your daughter takes to the violin and becomes at all serious about it, get her a better teacher. But that won't be an issue for a couple of years at least so don't stress.

I started playing violin at age 7. The biggest problem for me (and probably even bigger for my parents) was an aversion to practicing. A major aversion. I wasn't able to articulate it at the time, but looking back on it, one of the reasons that I was so loathe to practice was that it took a long time to set up to play. Opening the case, tightening the bow, tuning up, attaching the shoulder rest, setting up the folding music stand... at age 7 (even at age 17 if I was really worn out) that process seemed insurmountable.

If you have room in your home, I strongly recommend setting aside an area just for your daughter to practice, where she can safely leave her violin out (on a table, not the floor) and leave a music stand set up.
posted by telegraph at 8:41 PM on February 7, 2010

Response by poster: Yea I didnt mean for this to become a Suzuki debate. It just happens that the instructor uses that method. She is going to be taking lessons one a week at the music store we are renting the violin from
posted by ShawnString at 8:55 AM on February 8, 2010

Above suggestions are good. Just wanted to add that you should try to expose her to lots of different music that has violin in it. Classical to bluegrass and everything in-between. Personally I think Amanda Shaw's music is awesome, and she is a great role model for a young girl. She sings *and* fiddles! I also remember my dad teaching me a lot about the famous classical composers, which made me more interested.
posted by radioamy at 3:14 PM on February 9, 2010

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