Before we moved to our new city, Curly took violin lessons using the Suzuki material. However, her teacher wasn’t officially Suzuki certified, although at the time, I had no idea what that meant or how it was any different. Now we have a new city and a new teacher and I’ve learned quite a few new things. So, what is Suzuki violin like from a parent’s perspective? Read on!
Technique-Suzuki violin is all about technique. You don’t move forward until you’ve mastered the techniques to do so. In a way this is a great thing-you stop bad habits before they start. In another way, it can be incredibly frustrating for both the child and the parent (and I’m sure the teacher too). You get to play things over and over and over again. You get to practice bow holds 10 times a day. You practice violin holds 20 times. At the lesson you tweak your hold and learn how you’ve been doing it wrong that week, and then you go home and try again. Seriously?! And I thought we were doing a pretty good job. No, pretty good just doesn’t cut it. It will be right and it will be practiced to death and then it will become habit. We are doing this to make violin easier. Yup, that’s my mantra. We are doing this to make violin easier. I repeat, repeat, repeat both to myself and to Curly.
Singing notes-Our teacher has us singing the notes that Curly is supposed to play. We sing A, E, F#, and D right now. We sing them and sing them and sing them. Then we sing them some more. Do you have any idea how long it took Curly to be able to hit the A on her own? Months. That’s how long! I was ready to believe that it was never ever going to happen. We would go to our lesson and Curly would be nowhere near hitting the A. It made me want to bring our practice charts in with a notary stamp on them. We did practice this-every. single. day. Promise!!! It just took us forever to see any progress. But singing the notes gets them in her ear. And now when she plays them, she knows if they are slightly sharp or slightly flat and she can adjust accordingly. I thought it was possibly the worst idea in the history of music, but I see the benefits. However, getting to this point was truly awful. What a process!!
Twinkles-Do you know Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star? You will learn it very soon. And you will learn it in different rhythms. You will hear it in your sleep. You will hum it throughout the day. The song will never ever leave you alone. And that’s how you start with violin-once you’ve gotten passed the technical things like bow hold and violin hold. And you might even spend a year on those Twinkle songs. Why did no one warn me?
Practice Charts-Our teacher gives us practiced charts divided into little sections for each technique and/or song that we should practice that week. Included with each section is a number-and that’s how many times we are supposed to work on that technique or song in each practice. Sometimes it’s around 10 and other times less. That can make for long practices. Our teacher has us roll dice to determine how many times we will work on each item. And we do work on it and we check off our boxes.
Listening-Another part of the Suzuki method is listening to the CD of all the songs from the practice book. These songs are played on the CD in absolute perfection and at breakneck speeds. If they think we can keep up with them, they are mistaken! Did you know you’re supposed to listen to those songs an hour every day? Ok, we don’t ever quite make it. However, we do listen. We listen to our current songs and the few songs that come next. We even hum them and I have Curly try to guess which song it is.
Poems and special listening-As a part of our practice time we are supposed to work on poems to present to our teacher. Thankfully this is covered during our memory work time at breakfast. We just use our poems and verses for our recitations at lesson time. We are also to pick a song by any composer and listen to it multiple times per week. Then we come to our lesson and name the composer, song, and performer of the piece we listened to. Umm…..sometimes I forget about that. But at least we do make an effort to listen to more classical music. I do try!
Group lessons-A huge part of the Suzuki method is group lessons. We have a group lesson every other Saturday. Right now Curly is in the Pre-Twinkler group of students who have not yet mastered all of the Twinkle variations. During group time they work on techniques and practice doing these things together as a group. They are slowly working to play songs together. Group lesson is such a huge pain! I have to be there by 9 am on a Saturday!! That is early! But they have been so very beneficial. Curly enjoys them; she’s learned so much through listening to the other students, and she’s been encouraged to see everyone progress-herself included. At the end of each lesson students are asked to give a special performance which can be naming a song they listened to that week, reciting a poem, or playing part of the Twinkle variation they are working on.
Group performance-Our teacher has arranged a few group performances for her studio. Curly has performed at a retirement center and a library, as well as at her recital. I know more group performances will be coming in the next year. These performances have been very helpful to Curly. She’s gotten over her nervousness about performing and she’s enjoyed playing with the other students. They are quite an impressive little group.
Parent pressure-I hadn’t realized the amount of pressure I would feel as a Suzuki parent. I’m in charge of practice sessions each day and I sure hope I get things right. If not, then we spent an entire week forming a bad habit that will be undone in our next lesson. Then we spend the following week making sure we are doing this correctly. Of course, you want your child to stay up with the other children in the group lessons and you want to see progress. I just want to have pleasant practice times sometimes. Do you keep pushing? Do you take a break? Do you start over? I am not a violin teacher, yet during the week I’m supposed to become a practice partner and teacher on the side. It’s tough, and most days I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing!
Parent Practicum-This is basically parent training and education. We go spend an evening at the teacher’s house without our student and she schools us. At times it can be completely intimidating and overwhelming. It’s helpful yes. But boy is it time consuming! Sometimes those sessions can be so encouraging and I come away with lots of new ideas for practice time. Other times, I just see the amount of work involved and how far we have to go. And yes, you will be required to read Dr. Suzuki’s book Nurtured by Love. I can’t say it was my favorite read. And I think I’m also supposed to do more reading. I need to get on that………when I have spare time…………
Overall, I’m glad we’ve chosen the Suzuki experience. Curly has made wonderful progress and has such great technique when she plays now. Slowly the songs are becoming easier for her and I can tell she’s forming good habits. But, the Suzuki method is a lot of work, for the child, but especially for the parent. If you don’t know that going into the program, you’ll learn it quickly enough.
Dr. Suzuki’s rationale is that “Every Child Can!” And I do believe him. It just takes more work for some children than others. And you can feel both encouraged and discouraged at the same time. When you take Suzuki violin, your student is learning, but I’m fairly sure the parent ends up putting in more hours than the child.
Linked with Learn and Link at Mama to 4 Blessings.